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

Murphy: no decision on general election in-person voting

Election officials say they need guidance by Aug. 1 if they’re to send out 6.2 million mail-in ballots

By Nikita Biryukov, July 17 2020 2:59 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy has made no decision on what this year’s general election will look like, and elections officials are saying he’ll soon be brushing up against a deadline.

Elections officials, including some from within Murphy’s administration, have told the New Jersey Globe they’ll need a decision on the November elections by Aug. 1 if that race is to be held using mostly vote-by-mail ballots, as July’s primaries were.

“We’ve made no decisions on the fall, on the Nov. 3rd election,” Murphy said. “I don’t have any reactions specifically to the Aug. 1st date, but I think it’s our collective judgement that the sooner we make that decision the better.”

For the primaries, each registered Republican and Democrat received a postage-prepaid mail-in ballot, while every unaffiliated voter received a vote-by-mail application. Voters could also cast ballots at a reduced number of in-person polling places — each county had to have at least half of their polling locations open, with at least one in each town.

If Murphy opts for a similar system for the general election, it’s likely that each of the state’s nearly 6.2 million registered voters would receive a VBM ballot. As contrast, county clerks sent roughly 3.8 million ballots out to Republicans and Democrats during the primary.

Though he demurred on whether he believed in-person voting would be safe in November, the governor is also fielding concerns about the state’s ability to staff polling stations for the general election.

“The secretary of state and all of our teams are doing the after-action review of this: One of the things we heard is on the physical presence that they would like as long a runway as possible,” Murphy said.

The New Jersey National Guard was called in to boost staffing levels at polling places that faced a shortage of typically-elderly and COVID-19-vulnerable poll workers, and the military branch’s members have helped count ballots in Monmouth County.

“We were concerned about whether we’d have the proper capacity of poll workers, so they were there literally as a surge capacity,” Murphy said, adding that he was not concerned about the optics of having soldiers — they were dressed in civilian clothes — counting votes.

The governor gave no specific timeline for when a decision on November’s races might be made, though he again said that his administration was looking to have a decision made “earlier than later.”

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