NEWTON, NJ – Questions raised from the all mail-in primary election in July are still being tracked down. In a teleconference meeting on Monday morning the Sussex County Board of Elections member took up two Primary election related issues; improperly excluded ballots and a possible recount.
According to Administrator Marge McCabe of the ballots that were initially pulled out of the count, 11 were ultimately excluded though they should not have been. It does not appear that the rejected ballots could have changed the outcome of the races in Sussex County though at least six township committee races were determined by fewer than a dozen write in votes.
The 11 rejected ballots indicated the voter was required to show identification or “IDR” and they had not done so. After researching “back to the paper” it was determined that these voters should not have been required to show identification according to McCabe.
These voters were “pre HAVA” or registered before the 2002 Help America Vote Act, and were therefore not required to show identification. The mailing labels on their ballots, however, incorrectly indicated “IDR” or identification required.
According to Board of Election officials, any voter with an IDR indicator should have also received a letter informing them of the requirement to include identification.
McCabe said she had spoken with the first voter who had contacted her about this issue. This voter should not have been required to show identification but the label on his ballot said IDR. He had not received the letter either. Since the label said IDR and he had not enclosed identification, the ballot was rejected. His ballot was improperly excluded even though the process was properly followed.
Commissioner Chairman Timothy McCabe said this was an “SVRS” or Statewide Voter Registration System problem. This voter was not properly identified as pre-HAVA. All 11 rejected ballots were submitted by pre-HAVA voters.
“For November we shouldn’t have this problem because the state has updated the SVRS,” Administrator McCabe said. She said they could have the county clerk’s office check to see if the labels would properly identify the pre-HAVA voters.
Officials on the call also said the issues could also be related to problems with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission as that agency also handles voter registration and voter registration information.
Commissioner Member Carolyn Magee said she “did not trust the whole error has been addressed because there are two problems.”
“The problem is with the Executive Order rewriting the statute, with the pandemic requiring a new process for all,” Commissioner Member Allan Langjahr said. He said changes have been made to the SVRS to repair the two issues, but they should be kept in mind should the November election be held in the same way.
Administrator McCabe reiterated she would be checking with the Sussex County Clerk to see if the problems are ongoing and to ask for a test of process. Commissioner McCabe supported the call for a test of the process with agreement from all the board members.
Administrator McCabe said the county clerk’s office would also have to address issues with the mailing clearing house contractor.
A second matter was discussed that could remedy the 11 rejected ballot problem. United States Senate candidate Hirsh Singh announced late last week he will be calling for a recount in all 21 counties.
According to the Singh campaign, approximately 8,600 votes separate he and the declared primary winner Rik Mehta. The campaign said the petition for a recount has been approved in four counties and is pending in others.
Sussex County has only received notice of the intent to have a recount but not an official court order according to officials. The board members agreed forward correspondence received by Administrator McCabe to Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Sussman.
Administrator McCabe said she expected guidance from New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal if the petitions are approved statewide. She said the petition called for a hand count meaning all ballots would have to be reviewed and could not just be scanned.
Commissioner of Registration Deborah Wirths asked if the 11 rejected ballots could then be added in, since they have been found to be inappropriately rejected. That guidance would come from Grewal, Administrator McCabe said.
Should the recount be required the board members speculated it could again take place at Sussex County Community College with help from poll workers.
Administrator McCabe said she would be reaching out to all 11 voters to explain the problem.
Governor Murphy is expected to announce the process for the November election by August 15; whether it will again be an all-mail-in election or return to in-person, according to Administrator McCabe.
General Election 2020 timeline:
- August 10- Ballot position drawing for boards of education and general election
- August 25 – Last day for school board candidate and independent general election candidate to withdraw. If a candidate withdraws by this date, a replacement candidate can submit a petition by August 31
- August 31 – Last day a candidate for Sparta Township Council or Town of Newton Council can submit nominating petitions to the township clerk, by 3 p.m.
- September 4- Last day a school board candidate can withdraw without being replaced
- September 19- Mail in ballots will begin to be mailed.
- October 13 – Last day to register to vote for the general election. Registration forms must be postmarked or received by the Board of Elections by this date.
- October 27 – Last day to apply by mail for a mail-in ballot for the general election
- October 31- Sussex County Clerk’s office will be open from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. for in person mail-in ballot applications
- November 2 – Last day to apply in person for a mail-in ballot before 3 p.m. in the Sussex County Clerk’s offices in Newton
- November 3 – Election day- polls will be open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.