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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Murphy won’t say if he’s concerned technical problems will disenfranchise primary voters

Governor not considering pushing back election day mail-in ballot deadline

By Nikita Biryukov, July 01 2020 5:39 pm

Amid election officials’ mounting concerns about technical problems and U.S. Postal Service delays, Gov. Phil Murphy declined to say whether he believed persistent technical problems would disenfranchise some voters ahead of the state’s July primaries.

“I would say, on the computer glitches, and again, Nikita, assuming you’re not ratting out any protection of privacy, we’d love to know the specific situations. That’s something Mahen or Matt can follow up with you afterward,” Murphy said, referring to his communications director Mahen Gunaratna and chief counsel Matt Platkin.

The New Jersey Globe has, on previous occasions, asked Murphy about specific technical problems plaguing New Jersey’s Statewide Voter Registration System and the automatic voter registration system operated by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Separately, the Globe has informed Murphy’s staff about frequent crashes that plague the SRVS and other issues that led to voters’ apartment numbers being left off of ballots or saw some voters receive duplicate ballots following a name change, among others problems.

It’s not clear whether the Murphy was briefed on those issues, but the governor appeared to minimize the risk of disenfranchisement posed by the issues.

“I just want to say this unequivocally: We take the sacred right of voting at the center of Democracy as seriously as we probably take our public, about as seriously as we take anything, and the notion of everyone having the confidence that their vote counts is a big, big deal for us, and I want to make sure folks out there know we don’t take any of this lightly,” Murphy said.

Though the state on Wednesday admitted that a “design flaw” at the Motor Vehicle Commission was responsible for thousands of New Jerseyans being registered with long-defunct political parties, the administration has said little publicly about the other technical problems.

“It was obviously an unintended consequence of the automatic voter registration law,” Platkin said. “People were just swiping through too quickly. It’s not clear that any of those people would have actually registered for a particular party. They may have just been trying to get to the next screen.”

The glitch causing voters’ apartment building numbers to be left off ballots was present during non-partisan municipal elections held in May and has persisted into the primary season despite being reported to state Division of Elections director Robert Giles.

Murphy has kept a closer eye on the Postal Service, which took sometimes took multiple weeks to deliver some completed ballots in the May races, disenfranchising an unknown number of voters who properly cast their ballots on time.

“Matt’s been back and forth extensively with the U.S. Postal Service,” Murphy said. “We’ve been going to them with very specific cases when we hear them, so the more specifics the better.”

With the primary now less than a week away, election officials in many of the state’s counties are still processing days-long backlogs of vote-by-mail applications sent in by unaffiliated voters.

It’s possible that those voters won’t receive their ballots in time even if they’re sent out before election day.

Murphy said he isn’t considering extending the deadline to mail a ballot past 8 p.m. on July 7.

“There’s no consideration, at this point, at least, of extending the deadline beyond the election day,” he said.

The SVRS crashes are at least in part responsible for those delays. Election officials cannot process a VBM application without accessing SVRS, and the system’s frequent business-hour crashes at one point forced Giles to tell election officials to stop processing applications.

Even when the system works, it does so at a plodding pace, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

Platkin on Wednesday suggested that voters who do not receive their mail-in ballot request one from in-person from their county clerk.

Alternatively, voters can cast a provisional ballot at a reduced number of in-person polling places.

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