FLEMINGTON, NJ - The Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders and residents listening to their teleconference meeting June 16 received a comprehensive take on administration and procedures for the 2020 New Jersey Primary set for July 7, but with a heavy influence of Vote-by-Mail ballots.

Hunterdon County Clerk Mary H. Melfi, a Flemington Borough resident for the last 43 years and a North Hunterdon Regional High School alumna, presented a full outline of the 2020 New Jersey primary election special procedures, including the process for mail-in ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Melfi, the state is reimbursing the county government administration for “costs associated with any extra costs as a result of Gov. (Phil) Murphy’s executive orders for the primary. This means printing, labor and postage.”

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The County’s IT, Finance and Human Resources, Buildings and Grounds and the “print shop’” divisions have all had a role in Hunterdon County preparing and organizing for thorough Election operations.

Clerk Melfi said residents have an opportunity to review what the election process will be by taking a look at a special webpage for the July 7 election, www.co.hunterdon.nj.us/Primary2020.htm, deemed the “One Stop Primary 2020 Information Center.”

“We have created a website, working with the county’s IT division,” she said. “Rather than have county residents checking on the Board of Elections’ site or then the county clerk’s website, then there is also much information for them on COVID-19 updates and announcements, we decided to put all our information in one place so county residents can turn to one site and not look for everything sporadically. We’ve created this site and we’re continuing to add on to it. It’s a ‘One-Stop‘ and it starts out with the Executive Order pertaining to this year’s primary, which explains what Gov. Murphy has issued and established, and what New Jersey’s county clerks, boards of election and superintendents of elections are required to do.”      

Two instructional videos on the procedures were recorded and posted, as Melfi said many people have never voted by mail.

“The video details how to actually put the ballot together because some of the things that happen, voters could detach a certificate and that can cause their ballot to be uncounted,” she said. “Or they forget to sign it, so there is a step-by-step video for anyone to watch. Beth Thompson, supervisor of the board of elections, did a video taking my ballot over there and on how I turned my ballot into the board of elections. Beth took my ballot from that day right up until the (July 7) Election Day and showed how the ballot runs through a system, in order to demonstrate how voting by mail is actually a safe and secure procedure and that Hunterdon County has election officials residents can be proud of.”

The new site has a copy of sample provisional ballots that are available at the 26 polling locations countywide, one in each of Hunterdon’s municipalities.

Also on the One-Stop site is a copy of the “Unaffiliated Application” available to download, “because there’s a few municipalities people have an interest in,” Melfi said. The One Stop page includes a link included for county resident voters who are active military duty or overseas.

The last day to register to vote in the July 7 primary was June 16, the same day as her announcements to the Hunterdon County Freeholder Board. Melfi delivered her update around 6:30 p.m. and the Board of Elections was able to register some voters until their hours ended just after 9 p.m.

Board of Elections staff worked tirelessly, and the staff of the county clerk’s office continued working nights and weekends, and all the ballots for registered voters went out in the mail and were delivered in the first half of June. Applications were delivered too.

“Ballot boxes were expected to be in by June 22, and the next thing registered voters can expect in the mail (anytime after June 18) is the postcard stating to voters that there will be no sample ballots, and also printed on them are the locations of the county’s 26 polling places,” Melfi said.

She later detailed the One Stop site’s listings of Ballot Drop Box locations.

“For every county, the State of New Jersey funded five drop boxes,” she said. “People were a little uncomfortable from the May elections with using the postal service, so five drop boxes were set up within each county. They created a criteria that these drop boxes and their locations need to be under camera surveillance, they need to be safe and secure and the ballots need to be picked up daily. This was under the Board of Elections’ purview, and they worked with various sites. Actually there’s a ‘Drive-n-Go’ for ballot drop-offs at the County Route 12 Complex (Flemington) branch of the Hunterdon County Library.”

Melfi concluded her presentation by stating the number one question people have had was about being put into a vote-by-mail system, and many recalled the issues with the State Legislature putting all registered voters into that system. She is encouraging all voters receiving a ballot in the mail for this primary to use it and not feel that voting in-person at one of the 26 county sites is necessarily a better process.

“People don’t like being put into that system without their request, and they opted out, but they ended up getting another notice,” she said. “To any of the public listening, this is a one-time deal and you will not be placed on a mail-in ballot list. We do strongly encourage you to use the vote-by-mail system for this Primary election, watch the videos and review the website and you can see what happens when you submit the ballot by mail. It’s a safe, safe process and if you do go to the polls on July 7 there are no machines. The public needs to understand that at the polling location, they would receive the same ballot that we’re mailing to you, only that the one we’ve sent to your address states Mail-In on top of it and at the polling location it would state Provisional.”

At a polling location July 7, voters will have to fill out an Affirmation Statement to recognize that they’re receiving a Provisional ballot because they did not fill out their vote-by-mail ballots. Melfi advised county voters to call the clerk’s office if they have questions, or contact Thompson on the ballot processing system.

Melfi added that no specific date can be projected for when the results of the ballot-counting and 2020 New Jersey Primary will be final.

“I do not know how we’re going to be able to count all these ballots, depending on when the results are, and even thinking back to when we have had a big turnout with 15,000 ballots, I was not getting results on Election Day until 9 p.m. or 9:30 p.m.,” she said. “But Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order allows ballots to be counted as long as they are postmarked AND/OR received by the county Board of Elections by 8 p.m. July 7, then they can be counted until July 14. The vote-by-mail ballots will be counted continuously until July 14, and then the Board of Elections will switch to counting the Provisional ballots. Somebody who refuses to cast a vote-by-mail ballot and chooses to do a Provisional, they are going to cause the Board of Elections to go through them, investigate and see that they did not already return one through vote-by-mail.”

The Hunterdon County Clerk’s Office (Melfi) can be reached at 908-788-1214 or by email at countyclerk@co.hunterdon.nj.us.

The Board of Elections can be reached at 908-788-1190 or elections@co.hunterdon.nj.us.