Early voting, one of the upcoming electoral changes in the NJ

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Credit: (Sue Dorfman / Votebeat)
June 8, 2021: A voter votes inside the voting booth at Engine House No. 7 in Trenton on Primary Election Day.

With just five weeks to go before the New Jersey general election, county officials who have had to adjust to a host of changes since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic are bracing for yet another new method of voting: early voting.

Next month, the state will open its first real statewide early voting period, with voters able to vote in person on machines. Six months ago, Gov. Phil Murphy passed a law mandating the system, which requires between three and ten polling stations open daily in each county, depending on its population. These polling stations must be operational from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday from 23 to 31 October.

This will give voters another alternative to going to the polls on election day. New Jersey residents have already become increasingly comfortable with postal voting; nearly three in ten voters in the June primary used a mail-in ballot. Most of the mail-in ballots for this year’s election were sent to voters who automatically get a ballot each year or to those who requested it.

The governor’s race leads this year, with Murphy, a Democrat for the first term, facing Republican Jack Ciattarelli, a former member of the Assembly, and three independents. The 120 seats in the Legislative Assembly are also up for grabs, as are the county and local seats. Voters are also encouraged to decide statewide voting issues related to sports betting and the use of raffle proceeds.

Information on all state races is available on the NJ Spotlight News elections page.

Make voting more convenient

Supporters say early voting will make it easier for more people to participate in democracy. Some people can’t take time off work on a given Tuesday, but they also don’t trust a ballot in the mail or in a ballot box. Opening the polling stations for nine days, including weekends, will make voting more convenient.

“We hope it goes well and that everything goes as smoothly as possible during early voting and on election day,” said Henal Patel of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, one of the groups that advocated for a early voting. “We will keep an eye on things. “

Although new to New Jersey, early voting takes place in 24 other states. Still, it’s uncharted territory here, given that lawmakers decided to open early polls statewide, rather than piloting an early voting system in a few counties.

“With all the new developments and unknowns, things are going well in Atlantic County,” said Evelynn Caterson, who chairs the county electoral board. She said some voters have questions, but that has become the norm, given “all the voting changes over the past two years.”

County clerks and election officials have adjusted over the past 18 months, largely due to the pandemic, by hosting a delayed primary, sending out paper ballots to most registrants, setting up and checking the ballot boxes, reducing or modifying polling places and alerting the mail. among voters to correct errors that would invalidate their ballot. This fall, election officials have a brand new voting system to roll out at relatively short notice.

Millions spent on new voting machines

All counties have had to purchase new voting equipment – including ballot printers, machines and electronic ballot books – and are now installing them and starting to train election officials in their use. An estimate from the New Jersey Counties Association puts the additional cost of that first year of early voting at $ 83 million. Most counties have also designated their early polling stations. The State Elections Division has a listing of these which it updates as it receives them.

“We are currently working with the state and adopting standards for early voting and we are on track to complete our preparations,” said Beth Thompson, administrator for the Hunterdon County Election Council. “We have all our new equipment for early voting… We are using a county building to train our election workers. We have planned 17 training sessions.

It will not only be the polling officers who will have to learn how to use the new machines. Voters will need it too. Most counties still use paperless machines where a person votes by pressing a touchscreen or buttons. But machines at advance polling places will use paper ballots that are printed on demand to allow a person in any city in a county to vote at any early polling place. They will also use ballot scanners likely unfamiliar to many voters. And potential voters will have to sign an electronic ballot book, rather than a paper book, to prevent someone from voting in one place and then voting again at another site or on another day.

There are other uncertainties around early voting, perhaps the most important of which is whether counties will have enough people to work at all early polling stations. Some county officials said they were struggling to find enough workers for the one-day primary in June. This fall, they will need people to work 10 days, including early voting days. Due to the looming shortage in June, lawmakers passed and Murphy signed a law doubling the daily wage for poll workers at $ 400, but only for this election. At the end of June, the Senate adopted a bill (S-598) making this increase permanent, but the Assembly did not act on it before the suspension until after the next election. That means election workers this fall should expect to earn $ 200 for polling day and a little less – $ 14.29 an hour – for early polling days.

Questions about election workers, new processes

Thompson said Hunterdon County needed to fill another 200 slots for election day.

Caterson said the recruiting of Atlantic County polling officers has gone well and the county is training up to 40 each in more than 20 sessions that have already started.

She is concerned about the confusion once advance voting begins, especially by those who have received a mail-in ballot but decide they want to vote in person. They will be required to complete a provisional ballot at the polls “because the electronic voting book will say” that they have received their mail-in ballot.

Registered voters will be able to vote for the first few days at any site in their county or at their regular polling station on polling day, November 2. They can also request a mail-in ballot and return it by mail or place it in a drop box before 8 p.m. on November 2.


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