Over the past few months, our state has been forced to confront challenges unlike any we have seen before. While many of our elected officials have responded admirably to this crisis, Gov. Murphy has repeatedly overstepped his authority and now, through his most recent executive order, is attacking the very basis of our democracy by jeopardizing the integrity of our elections.
Throughout this pandemic, Gov. Murphy has enacted far-reaching policies through the use of executive order. Nearly all of our major policy decisions, such as closing businesses, forcing residents to stay at home and requiring the use of face masks, have been implemented in this manner, with little or no input from our duly elected state representatives or the residents we represent. There were no public hearings and not one citizen was given the chance to testify on these critically important decisions which significantly affected people’s lives and livelihoods.
And now Gov. Murphy has gone even further by declaring that this fall’s elections will be held almost entirely through mail-in ballot. Under this recent order, every resident will be mailed a ballot — regardless of whether they request one — which can be returned via mail, placed in a drop box or brought to a polling location. Those who want to vote in person can visit a limited number of polling locations where they will be forced to cast a provisional ballot to be counted later.
Clearly this system is highly susceptible to voter fraud and leads to many questions about the integrity of our elections. One needs to look no further than the recent elections in Paterson to see the dangers of conducting an election primarily through vote-by-mail. In New Jersey’s third largest city, nearly one out of every five ballots cast were disqualified and the Attorney General (Gurbir Grewal) has already charged four individuals, including two candidates, with voter fraud.
One county clerk also expressed concern that moving to mail-in voting increases the chances that ballots will be sent to both deceased and ineligible voters, noting that about 1,500 ballots were returned to her office during last month’s primary election. Is this really something what we want to recreate on a statewide level, affecting more than 6 million voters?
It is also impossible to ignore the mail delivery issues which plagued the state during last month’s primary election, including sample ballots being sent back to clerks and completed ballots being returned to voters. Just recently, the U.S. Postal Service warned several states, including New Jersey, that it may not be able to deliver all ballots in time to be counted for the November election.
We all realize that we must take steps to curb the spread of this deadly virus, but surely we can devise creative ways to conduct this election in a manner that ensures public safety while maintaining our ability to cast a vote in person.
Every day, thousands of New Jersey residents put on a mask and venture into Walmart, The Home Depot or their local supermarket while adhering to social distancing and other recommended safety protocols. Why not apply those same standards at polling locations? Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost infectious disease expert, said he sees “no reason” why people would not be able to vote in person.
While one could argue the merits and flaws of each of the more than 70 COVID-related orders issued by Gov. Murphy, governing without the input of legislators or the public disregards the basic principles of a representative democracy. Yet, the Democrats in Trenton have refused to allow a vote on legislation limiting the governor’s executive orders.
Now that he is undermining one of the most cherished rights afforded to American citizens and causing residents to question the integrity of our elections, I am hopeful my colleagues will realize we must place firm limits on the governor’s authority to unilaterally enact policy and reject his plan to use this crisis to radically transform our election process.
Assemblyman Edward H. “Ned” Thomson represents the 30th District, which covers Ocean and Monmouth Counties and includes Belmar and Lake Como.