NEWTON, NJ – Even the most seasoned voter may have questions about voting in the general election in November. New procedures put in place by Governor Murphy in response to the COVID-19 health crisis are different from anyone has ever experienced.
The “all vote by mail” primary in July was a dress rehearsal for the main event in November, uncovering some issues with process. The revelation earlier this week by the Sussex County Board of Elections Administrator Marge McCabe that they found a box containing more than 1600 uncounted ballots highlights what could go wrong.
“I applaud the integrity of the board of election,” Sussex County Clerk Jeff Parrott said in an interview. “They did the right thing,” by announcing they had found the box, in a “secure location” within the county office building.
“We pride ourselves on transparency,” Sussex County Board of Election Administrator Marge McCabe said. “We would never try to hide something like this.”
Parrott said it is not unlikely that the complications leading to the lost box of ballots stemmed from having to move boxes of ballots between the county offices at 83 Spring Street and the alternate location at Sussex County Community College used to count the ballots.
“I’m not making excuses,” Parrott said. “Because of all of the mail-ins there wasn’t enough room here, so they went back and forth between the college.”
Room has been made for the ballots to stay in one place, in the county offices, for the November election, according to McCabe and Parrott.
“Procedural information is being put together to make sure this never happens again,” Parrott said.
“It will be a much more comfortable situation,” McCabe said. “I prefer to have tight control over everything.”
Parrott said as soon as they made the discovery, McCabe told him. They contacted New Jersey’s Attorney General who told them to count the ballots immediately.
At that time, according to Parrott, there was still time to make adjustments to the November ballots if needed, before they went to the printer. The votes did not change any of the candidates already slated to be on the ballot in November, he said.
McCabe said each day ballots are recorded when they are received, then sent to be opened and the votes counted. At the end of the day the number of counted ballots will be matched up to the number of ballots received as a check to make sure every ballot has been examined.
County Clerk and Board of Elections -What are their roles?
The Sussex County Board of Elections consists of an administrator, McCabe and four board members; two Republicans Deborah Wirths and Allen Langjahr and two Democrats Timothy McCabe and Carolyn McGee. It is their duty to handle new voter registrations, relaying them to the New Jersey Statewide Voter Registration Statistics or the SVRS. They oversee the voting process including hiring and training poll workers and any other method of voting, including drop boxes this year. The board of elections receives and counts the ballots. The board then refers the results to the county clerk to be certified.
The Sussex County Clerk is responsible for sending out the registration forms and ballots to the voters and certifying the election results.
This system provides a check so the same department is not sending and counting the ballots, Parrott said.
Election related bulk mailings are done through an independent contractor, Universal Mail. McCabe relays the registered voters’ information from the SVRS to Universal Mail.
One item to note, according to McCabe and Parrott, election materials do not get forwarded including sample ballots and mail in ballots. The board of elections has no way to know if someone has moved, unless a member of their household reports it. Some election mail may be “returned to sender” but not all.
The 2020 General Election in November- New Rules
Several new election rules have been created by Murphy, including changes since the rescheduled primary in July.
All voters are encouraged to vote by mail. All 6.5 million registered New Jersey voters are to receive a mail in ballot, whether requested or not.
Voters have several options to return their completed ballot:
- Use the prepaid envelope and return through the United States Postal System
- Place their envelope in one of five- soon to be 11 secure drop boxes
- Bring their envelope to the Sussex County Board of Elections in Newton
- Bring their envelope to their polling location on November 3
Ballots can be tracked, through a system set up by the New Jersey Division of Election.
Anyone who goes to their polling location on November 3 will be required to provide identification and complete a provisional ballot. That ballot is the same as a mail in ballot but will not be counted until after November 11, according to Parrott.
“Provisional ballots will go through an investigation process that happens after the deadline for mail in ballots,” McCabe said. The investigation is to confirm the identity of the voter and confirm that person has not voted twice.
Another change according to McCabe is to the “Bearer Law.” Now a voter can transport three ballots or up to five if they are from the same household. The person transporting the ballots would have to complete the Bearer information on the envelope.
Ballot Drop Boxes in Sussex County
According to McCabe the number of ballot drop boxes will increase from five to eleven by the beginning of October. The boxes are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are monitored by security cameras. The ballots are collected daily from the drop boxes by county election officials, McCabe said.
The new six boxes have been shipped and are due here next week she said. From there county employees will install them.
The current locations:
New boxes will be added to:
- Andover Boro,
All boxes will be located at the municipal buildings except for Freedon, where it will be located at the Civic Center.
Polling locations will be announced closer to the election. There will be 37 polling locations in Sussex County. Registered voters will receive notification of their location. McCabe said the reduced number of polling places in a function of the number of poll workers they are able to hire.
After November 3
Voters whose mail in ballots that have been disqualified will have an opportunity to “cure” their ballot. They will be notified of the reason for the disqualification, with a postage paid envelope, to make the correction, Mc Cabe said. She said she also set up a special email address for people who want to email to cure their ballot, firstname.lastname@example.org
McCabe said people have taken advantage of using the email address to cure their ballot and it works very quickly.
Voters have until November 20 to complete this process to make their vote acceptable, Parrott said.
To be counted in the general election, mail in ballots must be “timely;” postmarked by November 3 and received by the Sussex County Board of Elections by November 10, according to Murphy’s executive order. This is longer than the typical election timeline.
McCabe said the executive order also allows for ballots to be accepted by the board of elections 48 hours after close of polls on November 3 if they do not have any postmark or if the postmark is illegible.
Residents seeking to vote in the November election must register by October 13 and can do it online.
Voters can confirm their registration status on the state website.
Parrott said the Overseas mail in ballots will be sent beginning September 19. All other ballots must be sent beginning October 5 though he anticipates them going out earlier.
“As of September 19, people can come to the board of elections and vote,” Parrott said.