SOMERVILLE, NJ — The Somerset County Freeholders have adopted a non-binding resolution that urges state and county election officials to join them in supporting "voter choice" and ensure that in-person machine voting not be supplanted by mail-in balloting in the upcoming election.
The resolution, approved unanimously, is in response to Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order issued two weeks ago to conduct New Jersey's Nov. 3 election primarily through mail-in ballots.
Murphy's order also increased the number of drop boxes for voters to leave their ballots in each county from five to ten, and mandates that poll workers accept voters mail-in ballots in person at all polling places.
The ballot boxes must be installed 45 days prior to the General Election - Sept. 19th - monitored by security cameras and accessible 24/7
Murphy also ordered that the Secretary of State's office create and implement a public awareness campaign, including how to check the status of a mailed ballot. Ballots cannot be rejected for damaged envelopes.
Somerset County Freeholder Brian Gallagher, who proposed the resolution along with fellow Republican Brian Levine, takes issue with Murphy's executive order.
"Here's the problem," Gallagher said. "You have one person who has decided how you will cast your vote, without consulting the legislature, and more importantly without the approval of the citizens; that goes against everything this country stands for," he added. "We need to have in-person voting on Election Day."
Gallagher also said the mail-in process is flawed and cumbersome. It took one month for the results of the July Primary to be counted and declared official using the mail-in ballots; the turn-out for the General Election is expected to be far greater than the 25 percent of the electorate who participated in the Primary, Gallagher said.
"We may not know until after Christmas who our president will be," he said.
President Trump's re-election campaign also filed a lawsuit over the mail-in plan ordered by Murphy immediately after the governor issued the executive order.
The resolution reads in part, "the Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Somerset urges the Secretary of State, County Boards of Election and County Clerks to utilize in-person machine voting in conjunction with mail-in balloting in the General Election of November 2020 and all future elections."
Other key passages in the resolution:
"Whereas, mail-in ballots were predominantly utilized in the Primary Election in July, 2020, and;
"Whereas, the practice of predominantly using mail-in ballots for all registered voters causes concerns for voter fraud, voter disenfranchisement, postal delivery delays, significant increase in election costs and reliance on a flawed Statewide voter/DMV computer registration database and;
"Whereas requiring the use of mail-in ballots resulted in significant delays in the counting of ballots and determining the outcome of the Primary Election and;
"Whereas numerous voters have expressed a desire to wait until Election Day to cast their ballot electronically, in -person for the candidate of their choice to fully allow them to assess the latest information available regarding candidates and Public Questions."
Gallagher is concerned the traditional Election Day routine of millions of voters is being threatened.
"For instance, who's counting the votes? There are a whole lot of unanswered questions," Gallagher said. "Beyond that, if we have the ability to stand in line at Walmart, Motor Vehicle, the food store, why can't we stand in line and cast our vote which is one of the most important things we do as citizens in this country.
"People don't engage themselves in the election process until they're ready." Gallagher said. "Some are ready now, some aren't ready until Election Day. Voting by mail disenfranchises a whole lot of people and that is completely wrong."
Gallagher and Levine are both incumbents running for reelection Nov. 3.
The five-member Somerset Freeholder Board, including three Democrats - Freeholder Director Shanel Robinson, Deputy Freeholder Director Sara Sooy and Melonie Marano - and the two Republicans, voted unanimously in favor of the resolution at its virtual meeting last Tuesday, just three days before Murphy signed three bills putting into motion preparations for an election process that relies heavily on mail-in ballots, all in an effort to minimize personal contact because of the COVID-19 pandemic, while ensuring voters the opportunity to cast their vote, according to Murphy
The executive order requires state and county election officials to send a ballot and prepaid envelope to all registered voters before the Nov. 3 general election, which will feature the presidential race, congressional races, county freeholder elections and local elections.
Murphy responded to Trump's lawsuit during his daily press COVID-19 press briefing Aug. 19:
“Vote-by-mail is not new in New Jersey and takes on the added importance of protecting both public health and the right to vote during a deadly pandemic that has already taken more than 14,000 lives in our state,” Murphy said. “The Trump campaign is embarking on a brazen attempt to sow fear and confusion, and to de-legitimize our elections and cast doubt on our democratic process.”
“Let me be clear: Vote-by-mail in the November election will keep people safe. Our plans for November will move forward,” Murphy said. “Vote-by-mail has been used extensively across the country – including in the five states that almost exclusively use vote-by-mail for every election.”
President Trump clearly disagrees. His lawsuit detailed circumstances of voter fraud in New Jersey, including the recent primary election in Paterson, in which two councilmen have been charged with voting improprieties.
Trump’s lawsuit claims that Democrats have engaged in a "hurried transition to universal vote-by-mail, eliminate voter-identification requirements, and remove other existing safeguards."
Murphy responded, “We will defend our rights vigorously, and we will not back down. Bring it on.”
The governor said that New Jersey’s efforts to expand participation through vote-by-mail have been ongoing for years, and have proven successful. The July Primary saw the second-highest turnout in state history despite an ongoing public health emergency, according to Murphy
“Let me make an unequivocal statement: Our democracy is stronger and fairer when all voters have the right to not just cast a ballot, but to cast that ballot in confidence,” Murphy said. “The sanctity of our democratic processes must be – and will be – preserved.”
The Trump campaign's lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey but the case is yet to be heard.