SUSSEX COUNTY, NJ – The primary election, scheduled for July 7 is anything but normal.  Many issues have arisen from the expectation that every voter will vote by mail, according to Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 144. Even the most experienced voter could be confused with all the changes.  

Some primary election voting basics:

Vote by mail and mail-in ballots are the same.  Absentee ballots refer to voting processes for United States citizens and their eligible family members who are serving the United States outside of the country.

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All registered voters who are "unaffiliated" should have received an application to get a mail-in ballot. They had to have been postmarked by June 30 or brought in person to the Sussex County Clerk.   There are reports of unaffiliated voters not receiving the applications.

Unaffiliated voters are registered voters who have not declared a party affiliation. They were previously called undeclared voters.

In a normal year, unaffiliated voters would not have received mail in-ballot applications, according to Sussex County Clerk Jeff Parrott.  This year Governor Murphy’s Executive Order144 required all registered voters to receive forms to vote by mail; either the application or the actual ballot.

This comes with a price tag of approximately $160,000, according to Parrott.  He said state officials claim the counties will be reimbursed, “but the state doesn’t have the money either.”   

According to Parrott, the mail-in primary ballots are on track for normal primary voter participation, with about 17,500 ballots returned as of the morning of June 30.  Parrott said they typically have about 18 to 19% voter turnout for a primary and 22-25% for a general or presidential election.

Voters who have cast a ballot in previous primaries will be considered affiliated with the party for whom they last voted, according to Sussex County Senior Deputy Clerk Angela Rosa.

Affiliated voters should have received actual mail-in ballot packet, including a ballot for the candidates for their affiliated party; Republicans getting republican candidate ballots and Democrats getting democrat candidate ballots.

Once completed and sealed into the postage paid envelopes, mail-in ballots can be dropped in the mail, walked into the county clerk’s office during business hours or put into one of five ballot boxes in the county.

The five red, white and blue secure mail-in ballot boxes are monitored by security camera surveillance and emptied each night, according to the county clerk’s website.  Voters can put their ballots into the box up to the close of polls, 8 p.m. on July 7. They are located:

  • Hardyston Township Municipal Building,
  • Hopatcong Township Municipal Building,
  • Newton Town Municipal Building,
  • Sparta Township Municipal Building,
  • Vernon Township Municipal Building.

There are reports of people receiving the ballot for the wrong party.  Parrott said there was an issue with republicans Newton's 16th and 17th districts having all received ballots for democrat candidates.  He pointed to an issue with the processing center and said it has been rectified. 

Parrott said the county is using the same mail processing company that they have used for 30 years.  He said it is simply that there has never been a total vote by mail election and it is “overwhelming.”  He said COVID-19 has also contributed to problems, with the post office and other facilities being short-staffed, due to coronavirus related concerns.

“They can’t keep up,” Parrott said.

Only a limited number of in-person polling locations will be open in each town.  Voters may not bring their mail in ballots to the polling locations. If voters go to those locations they will have to complete a paper, provisional ballot.

Primary voting in Sparta:

According to the Sparta Township Clerk Kathleen Chambers, while all voters are encouraged to vote by mail those needing to go in person will have to go to one of two the polling locations in Sparta: the Fire Headquarters at 141 Woodport Road and the Sparta First Presbyterian Church at 32 Main Street.

She said voters from districts 1,2,5,7,9,11 and 13 are assigned to the Fire Headquarters and voters from districts 3,4,6,8,10, 12 and 14 are assigned to the Sparta First Presbyterian Church.

Voters can find their voting districts on their return envelopes for mail-in ballots, noted as "Sparta Township /00/01" for district 1 for example or on the postcard notifying of the polling location, noted as "DIST 01" for district 1 or "DIST 12 for district 12 for example.

A very limited number of voting machines will be available at those locations for people with disabilities such as vision impairment. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.  Social distancing and other COVID-19 related protocols will be enforced according to New Jersey officials.

According to the New Jersey Division of Elections voters may be asked to show identification, at the polling places and in the county clerks’ offices.  This identification can include any current, valid photo ID:

  • New Jersey Driver’s License,
  • Military ID,
  • Student or Job ID,
  • Store Membership Card, such at Costco or BJ’s,
  • United States Passport,

“or bank statement, car registration, rent receipt, sample ballot, utility bill or any other official document.”

Registered voters should have received a large postcard from the Sussex County Board of Elections with a red box on the bottom left of the front side.  That box should have the voter’s revised polling location.  There are reports of registered voters not getting these postcards.

Each part of the mail-in ballot process has had some problems for some registered voters.  These problems are not limited to voters receiving all the correct forms nor are they unique to Sussex County. 

In Morristown voters may not have received their mail-in ballots or applications when a mail truck caught fire, according to the Morris County Clerk.

In Paterson reports of voter fraud in the May 12 special election have garnered national headlines.  Four people including the city’s council vice president and another council member-elect face voting fraud charges with approximately 19% of the mail-in ballots not having been initially counted.

Parrott said issues have been reported all over the state with the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots that have to be processed with a short time to prepare.

Rosa said some of the issues can be coming from the Sussex County Board of Elections having information not recorded correctly.  Parrott added, “[The Statewide Voter Registration Statistics Archive or] SVRS is not running the way it should be.”

All mail-in ballots post marked by July 7 and received by the board of elections by July 14 will be counted.

When it comes to counting the ballots, Parrott said Sussex County “should be okay.” He said the county has three machines that can each count up to 8,000 ballots a day.  The election results, however, will not be certified until July 24 at the earliest.

This is, in part, due to the process of allowing voters whose ballots were disqualified to have the opportunity to correct the deficiency.  Parrott said if a ballot is “kicked-out,” the voter will receive a letter with a self-addressed postage paid envelope allowing them to correct the problem.  They will have until July 23 to either mail in the response or make the adjustment in person at the Sussex County Clerk’s office.

Parrott said people can even come to the Sussex County Clerks office on July 4 from 9 a.m. until noon to drop off their mail-in ballots.

Chambers said anyone with questions can contact the Sussex County Board of Elections at 973-579-0950 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.   

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