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In Bergen, barriers to all-VBM elections

NJ county hit hardest by COVID-19 faces a slew of logistical roadblocks

By Nikita Biryukov, March 17 2020 12:45 pm

Elections Officials in the New Jersey county hit hardest by COVID-19 face significant barriers to conducting pre-primary elections entirely through mail-in ballots.

“Our printer, his mail house is located in Bergen County. The company he gets the paper from is in Bergen County, and the ink place is Bergen County, so that has to be addressed also if we’re going with the full paper ballots,” County Clerk John Hogan said. “With these closures, it affects everything.”

Bergen County leads the state in the number of novel coronavirus cases, accounting for roughly one third of New Jersey’s 178 reported cases, including two of the state’s three COVID-related deaths.

State and County elections officials are actively considering moving the state’s pre-primary elections entirely to the mailbox.

Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to make a decision on the fate of those races sometime this week, though there likely won’t be any election-related news of out Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing.

Bergen has six school board races in April and non-partisan municipal elections in Ridgewood, Ridgefield Park and Teaneck in May.

Over the weekend, state officials have moved to curtail the hours of operation for non-essential businesses, imposing a mandatory 8 p.m. closing time for most firms, among other measures.

It’s possible those restrictions will grow stricter over the coming days, and it’s not clear whether businesses related to elections, however tangentially, will see further limitations as officials reach a decision.

“You need the paper, you need the ink and you need the mail house to send them out, so that’s something that I’m waiting to address with the county administrator here in Bergen County,” Hogan said. “That’s serious. That can affect an election.”

Further complicating matters for Bergen are the more stringent limitations sought by County Executive Jim Tedesco.

On Monday, Tedesco announced a plan that would see all malls and non-essential businesses in the county closed.

That order, which would have imposed harsher restrictions than those Murphy announced at Monday’s COVID-19 briefing, is currently on hold until Saturday.

Many branches of Bergen County’s government are already closed to the public, creating another complication for Bergen’s pre-primary elections.

”If people are looking to come in to conduct election business, how are we going to be able to do that?”  Hogan said. “If people are changing their party before the primary, that’s a change of party form. Do we put a lock box outside?”

That issue and others dealing with the state’s June primary races will be the subject of a call between state and county elections officials on Wednesday.

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