This is why New Jersey Needs “Vote By Mail”
I’m Russ Cirincione, a New Deal Democrat running for Congress in CD-6 . Two things are very important to me: protecting the health and well being of the New Jerseyans and protecting the right to vote. If you had the chance to prevent the spread of coronavirus, save lives, and strengthen the People’s voice in elections, would you take it? Of course you would. Well, New Jersey has this opportunity to do so for the primary election on July 7, 2020.
New Jersey’s primary election is currently slated to proceed as normal. The facts demonstrate in-person voting has become dangerous. On April 7, Wisconsin held its primary, with in-person voting. There were long lines and crowded rooms. Over 50 people contracted coronavirus on election day – by either voting or working the ballot boxes. We should avoid making the same mistake. The genuine risk of contracting COVID-19 will force many people to not vote in person. So, to protect the right to vote, New Jersey should upgrade our elections to complete “vote by mail.” There’s really good news: five states have already mastered the art of vote-by-mail elections. So, should New Jersey be the sixth state to have completely vote-by-mail elections? The answer is a resounding yes.
The first positive – voting by mail will increase voter turnout. For example, Oregon’s elections have been completely vote by mail for about twenty years. That’s right – Oregonians do not go to a voter booth to cast their votes. Oregon has more than double the voter turnout than New Jersey does. In the 2016 primaries, New Jersey’s voter turnout was about 26% – about 1.4 million out of 5.4 million eligible voters showed up. In Oregon, voter turnout was about 54% - or 1.2 million people voted out of 2.28 million eligible voters. Oregon has consistently beaten the national average for voter turnout, and may be the highest in the country. In 2016, 68 percent of the state's registered voters voted, 8% above the national average. So vote by mail will increase voter turnout, which is better for Democracy.
The second positive is that voting by mail is highly accurate. In an age where election security is at the top of our minds, paper ballots cannot be hacked. Yes, maybe they can be stolen, but we can safeguard against that with modern technology. For example, in Oregon, voters receive a text message when their ballot is counted, which allows voters to verify their ballots made it to the total tally. So every vote is counted.
The third positive is that voters overwhelmingly approve the vote by mail system in Oregon. In a 2003 study, researchers concluded that about 80% of Oregonians favored voting by mail over traditional in-person voting. Both women in general and all working people stated they voted more often because of it. And, the popularity of vote by mail spanned the political spectrum, meaning no particular party was favored by increased voter turnout. If we want to truly empower people, we need to start vote by mail as soon as possible.
And of course, above all else, the most important factor here is that voting by mail will protect public health. This is so important in New Jersey, where we’ve seen over 100,000 cases of COVID-19, which is about 20 times more than the total number of infected people in Wisconsin. If Wisconsin had at least 50 new cases from their primary election, we can estimate there would be at least 1,000 new cases in New Jersey from voting in person. Let’s prevent that spread and keep New Jersey safe.
If you’re wondering how the vote by mail process works, it’s similar to what New Jersey has now, but without the need for our current “opt-in” system. In Oregon, voter registration is automatic, and every registered voter gets a mail-in ballot delivered to their house almost three weeks before the election. Every ballot has a unique barcode, so there’s no chance of duplicates. On the actual ballot, you choose your preference. You would probably do a bit of research on candidates, and from the comfort of your home, your voice is heard. Democracy occurs in your living room or on your countertop. No more waiting in lines. No more waking up early or coming home late. Parents could spend more time with their kids. No fear of touching a contaminated voting booth. There is no downside to vote by mail.
Each ballot is signed, and voter signatures are matched with a digital voter file. When your vote is counted, you get a text message confirmation. If there’s a problem with your ballot, a text message informs you and you may correct it. Then, you either stamp the ballot and drop it in your mailbox, or you can bring the ballot to a state-designated drop-off location, probably at a nearby library, post office, or even Walgreens or Wawa.
Vote by mail would strengthen Democracy. This is what the right to vote should look like. If Governor Murphy would implement vote by mail, he would be written in the history books as the Governor who modernized New Jersey’s voting system, secured our right to Democracy, and protected the health of our people in a time of crisis.
Not only do we need to upgrade to vote by mail, New Jersey could easily allow people to sign up to vote by mail electronically. Currently, to vote by mail you have to print a form, fill it out, and drop it in a mailbox (click here if you’d like to do it now). You can’t email or fax voter registration forms, even though today, almost anything can be done electronically, because old school rules require an “original wet signature.”
Governor Murphy could easily order that County Clerks must accept electronic vote-by-mail applications, because he’s done something similar recently. A few weeks ago, he signed an unprecedented executive order to protect the health of New Jerseyans: candidates for office could collect voter signatures electronically. The next logical step is to modernize voter registration and allow registering to vote by mail electronically. New Jersey should go all the way, to protect our health, and strengthen our elections, with vote by mail. Coronavirus is not going away, and we shouldn’t have to risk our lives to vote. I know that Governor Murphy does not want to put our lives at risk, and I trust he will make the correct decision for New Jersey.
Russ Cirincione is running in the Democratic Primary for New Jersey’s 6th Congressional District on July 7, 2020. He supports many election reforms that will protect our rights to vote. He supports clean and fair elections. To learn more about Russ Cirincione, New Deal Democrat for Congress, go to www.RussForUs2020.com