MADISON, NJ, August 21, 2019 – Beginning in June 2018, ATNJ Education Fund and thousands of volunteers sent close to 300,000 Vote By Mail applications and VBM info sheets to registered voters in New Jersey, educating on the ease and convenience of voting by mail. When Governor Murphy signed S647 into law on August 10, 2018, we were informed by many County Clerks around the state that the current forms would be accepted until the new Applications for Vote By Mail Ballot were printed and shipped to each County Clerk’s office.
We had already sent out about 180,000 VBM applications before the new applications were made available. Recently, we learned that contrary to the spirit of the law, the Board of Elections instructed all County Clerks not to send mail-in ballots to VBM voters who applied in 2017 and 2018, grandfathering only VBM voters of the 2016 November election. Our goal to educate registered voters on the ease of voting by mail is undermined when we keep changing the rules creating much confusion. Since the 2016 General Election, there are approximately 169,000 voters who switched from machine voting to vote by mail. Based on the Voter Data publicly available from the state, there are 130,000 voters who voted by mail in the 2018 General Election who no longer appear as VBM voters and therefore will not get mail-in ballots they may be expecting.
The gap between the old VBM applications and the new VBM applications exists. The old applications did not have a choice for the voter to receive a mail-in ballot for “All Future Elections” language that the new application has. The old form required the voter to reapply yearly if they wanted to vote by mail in elections in addition to the November General Elections. Presumably, the intent of the VBM voters who used the old VBM applications could not be assumed and nothing in the law specifies what to do with these VBM voters.
As stated by Asm. Andrew Zwicker in a recent news article, clearly the legislative intent was to make it easier for voters who want to vote by mail to do so in every election without having to continually reapply under the old system. This would make it easier for voters by not requiring them to reapply yearly and eliminate their postage costs. It would also reduce the administrative costs of printing, distributing, and processing applications at every county clerk’s office and Board of Elections.
ATNJEF has been inundated with questions asking for clarity. In the past three weeks since launching this initiative, our volunteers across the state have sent out over 35,000 VBM applications to registered voters to date. Voters are understandably confused. With the mail-in ballots scheduled to be mailed on September 21, we believe that an emergency legislative fix is needed. We are calling for Speaker Coughlin, Senate President Sweeney, and Governor Murphy to work together to make this happen. We believe that the Board of Elections and the County Clerks need legislative clarity on both the intent of the law and the mechanisms to execute it. This needs to include addressing the 2017/2018 gap by grandfathering all VBM voters who have previously applied for VBM to automatically receive mail-in ballots regardless of which application they used. This legislative fix will benefit all voters, taxpayers, and employees who work for the Board of Elections and the organization of County Clerks.
About ATNJ Education Fund
ATNJ Education Fund (ATNJEF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization based in New Jersey, established to educate the general public about the policies that affect our everyday lives from the state Capital to our nation’s capital. ATNJEF envisions a state of citizens who are informed and engaged in democracy; where the power lies with working class people; and where elected officials form policies that create and maintain a just, fair, and inclusive community.