NEW JERSEY - A historic Election Day is rapidly approaching in New Jersey. Not only are residents recovering from the coronavirus pandemic and an economic downturn, but social unrest, issues of racial injustice, and the advent of mail-in ballots have combined to create an election season like no other.
More than 80 percent of American voters will have the opportunity to vote-by-mail in the Nov. 3 election, by far the most in U.S. history. Absentee voting is allowed for all in 34 states, and only six states require an "excuse" other than fear of the coronavirus to vote by mail — and New Jersey isn't one of them.
Whether you plan to vote by mail or in person, here's everything you need to know about casting your ballot in New Jersey.
Election date: Nov. 3
Check if you are registered to vote.
Where can I drop off my ballot?
Track my mail-in ballot.
Where can I vote in person?
Postmarked by deadline: Nov. 4
Received by deadline: Nov. 10
What and who are on the ballot?
Presidential race: Residents can either cast a write-in vote or choose, among the major parties, between Republican President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, or Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden and US Sen. Kamala Harris. Also running are: Don Blankenship/William Mohr (Constitution Party); Howie Hawkins/Angela Nicole Walker (Green); Jo Jorgensen/Spike Cohen (Libertarian); Gloria La Riva/Sunil Freeman (Party for Socialism and Liberation); Roque De La Fuente/Darcy Richardson (The Alliance Party) and Bill Hammons/Eric Bodenstab (Unity Party).
US Congress: One US Senate seat will be contested: Incumbent Democrat Cory Booker will face Republican Rik Mehta. All 12 of the state's congressional seats will be decided. New Jersey's delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives is split between 10 Democrats and two Republicans heading into Election Day. See congressional races on your local ballot here.
Marijuana legalization/Ballot questions: Voters will decide whether to legalize the possession and use of marijuana. Voters will also decide whether to makes peacetime veterans eligible to receive the veterans' property tax deduction.
I received my ballot. Now what?
As part of the primarily vote-by-mail mandate issued by Gov. Phil Murphy and codified by the legislature for the upcoming Nov. 3 election, all ballots to "active voters" were sent by the Garden State's county clerks by the Monday, Oct. 5 deadline.
So now what?
For those who have already received their ballots, it is simply a matter of filling them out and returning them.
There are a variety of ways to return them:
In-person at a polling location on election day
Mailing them back through the Unites State Postal Service
Dropping them in a secure drop dox located in many municipalities.
But regardless of how you return them, you first need to fill them out correctly. Warren County Clerk Holly Mackey posted a video with instructions you can see below.
Beyond the video, Mackey said there are few things voters must keep in mind.
The Certification Envelope
On the Certification Envelope, where it says, municipality/town/city, you will put where you physically live (pay property taxes) not your mailing address. If you put your mailing address, it WILL NOT invalidate your ballot. It just helps the Board of Elections, when they begin opening them. When the envelopes are scanned, your information will come up for the the Board of Elections to verify.
The Mailing Envelope
On the front of your mailing envelope, above the barcode, is your Voter ID#. This can be used to set up Track My Ballot. The barcode is your municipality and voting district, for municipalities with more than one polling location, this is where you can find your district information. This information will also be sent out in a postcard prior to the election.
The Bearer Box should only be filled out if you are hand delivering a Vote by Mail Ballot for someone else: to our office, Board of Elections or to a lockbox. It DOES NOT need to be filled out if using USPS delivery.
If you fill out the Bearer Box with your information in error it WILL NOT invalidate your ballot.
Mackey also included a diagram on how to mark the ballot.
What about those who haven't received their ballots yet? According to Morris County Clerk Ann Grossi, a total of 358,000 ballots were sent and those who haven't received theirs should reach out.
Grossi shared her thoughts in a video as well, which you can view below.
Those looking for specific information about their county can contact their clerk through this website.
Ballots With Mistakes
Many New Jersey residents have received their ballots already, and some have received ballots that were in the wrong name, like a married or maiden name that was out of date, or for people who no longer live in that home.
Mackey told Patch in these cases it is most likely the voter's fault. According to Mackey, there are many reasons why these errors occur, but most boil down the a database being only as good as as its source material.
For example, when it comes to married vs. maiden names, the MVC automatic registration system is the culprit of most of them, Mackey said. She noted that the election board became aware of this and tried to get all of the duplicates merged before the ballots were sent out.
Those efforts were "mostly successful" but didn't get finished in time, Mackey said.
"Voters that have reached out to me with this issue, when I look them up, have had their voter records merged for the two names and the maiden deleted in the system so if they were to return that ballot it would be able to be scanned in," she told Patch. "Their married name remains active so they should shred the maiden and vote the married."
Mackey said if someone attempted to to commit voter fraud it wouldn't work because the "deleted" (merged) record won't accept it.
When it comes to deceased people receiving ballots, the election board does get periodic reports from Social Security and municipal clerks, but it's not a perfect or comprehensive system, Mackey said.
County Clerks throughout New Jersey have voter forms on their websites to help keep the database up-to-date. A person attempting to forge a dead person's signature and commit a felony would most likely see that ballot rejected during the signature verification process.
Mackey said when it comes to people who move out of state, for whatever reason, the onus is on them to let the Board of Elections know.
"There is no automatic system," she said.
Most county clerks host those forms on their websites as well.
Mackey also said that her office has received nasty messages, phone calls and rude notes scribbled on ballots and that anger is misdirected.
"If it is a case of no longer at this address tell them to put 'return to sender no longer at this address' and send it back," she said, noting that this should be the case with any official election mail they get for the wrong person.
Like sample ballots: Mackey said all registered voters get them and if voters were taking them and throwing them out for years, there would be no way for the election board, beyond telepathy, to know about it.
It is a good thing, Mackey believes, that the system works the way it does. It protects voters, she said.
"I think it is a good thing that people can't just be removed because someone calls and tells us they moved, or they passed away," she said. "It is for the voter's protection."
According to Mackey, this system protects against someone with a grudge denying you a right to vote.
"Let's say I am an evil ex-spouse or a neighbor who hates you. I send your mail back to the election board 'No longer lives here' or 'dead' and they remove you," she said "Then you go to vote and you aren't registered."
The current system requires an official signed documentation to remove people from the rolls.
"If it was just as easy as a phone call or a scribble on a piece of mail to remove your right to vote," Mackey said. "Imagine that."
Do you have more questions you'd like answered? Concerned your party is labeled on the ballot (it isn't in the general election) or want to hear how your specific county is handling the VBM process? Contact your county clerk.
If the signature on the ballot does not match the Voter Registration signature, the letter below will be sent from the Board of Elections.
Officials are asking that those who receive this letter, open it and respond immediately.
If you are heading in-person to a polling place, it's important to know your rights, and what is and is not legal in your encounters with poll workers.
Only voters who have never voted at that precinct before are required to show identification, according to New Jersey law. That identification does not have to be photo identification, but it must contain your name and address.
It bears repeating: it is illegal for poll workers to require you to present photo ID, the law states.
For those who may have limited English language proficiency, the law stipulates that you may bring another individual with you into the voting booth to help out casting your vote.
Finally, aside from wearing a mask and staying six feet away from other voters, you can also minimize risk by voting early to avoid long lines to vote.
Since the change to this year's election was announced by Murphy, there have been many questions about how the process will work. Below is some further reading on the Nov. 3 election process:
A primarily vote-by-mail election means a lot of changes to election day. See what you can expect this November.
Those not needing an ADA compliant booth will need a provisional ballot to vote in-person. Here is what that will look like.
There was language on the primary ballots asked voters certify they requested the ballot, even if they didn't.
Voters wondering how their signatures are checked before the upcoming election can see the process for themselves.
Need to register for the upcoming election? Want to track your vote once you do? Read on to learn how.
Here is a recap of important dates to remember with upcoming election, all in one place.Thanks for reading! Learn more about posting announcements or events to your local Patch site. Have a news tip you'd like to share? Or maybe you have a press release you would like to submit or a correction you'd like to request? Send an email to email@example.com