New Jersey voters report troubles with mail-in voting

By Sophia Solano

Some New Jersey voters are experiencing problems receiving or returning their mail-in ballots amidst misinformation, according to voters.

New Jersey, which has historically been a solidly Democratic state, has about 6 million eligible voters. This is the state’s first time employing a hybrid mail-in voting system for a general election. To minimize the spread of coronavirus, Governor Phil Murphy signed a law in August requiring county elections departments to send a mail-in ballot to every eligible voter. About half of polling locations will be closed on election day, though at least one per municipality is required to remain open for in-person voting. 

“There could be any number of reasons why a ballot didn’t reach a voter, including the ongoing postal service issues that have been widely reported,” said Alicia D’Alessandro, spokesperson for the NJ division of elections and secretary of state, in an interview.

Katie Meyerson, a student at American University from West Orange in Essex County, said that she never received her mail-in ballot at her Washington, DC address even though she requested one in late September. She called the Essex County elections department seven times and sent them multiple emails before she reached someone with answers about her missing ballot, which she learned she would have to request again. 

“It won’t be here and back in time to count,” said Meyerson in an interview. “Luckily, NJ is a very blue state so I don’t have to worry about my vote counting in a swing state, but it would still be nice to vote, especially on local things.”

D’Alessandro said that county clerk’s offices and state boards of elections are struggling to handle the high volume of calls they are receiving from confused voters.

“They’re absolutely overworked. In the time of COVID we talk a lot about frontlines and the county election workers are our frontlines of democracy,” said D’Alessandro. “The sheer volume of ballots they’re processing right now means that in the time it takes them to pause that and answer the phone, it’s difficult for them to do both right now.”

Some of the issue, according to D’Alessandro, is that voters who have questions do not know which office to call. This adds to the bulk of calls. 

“If you’re tying up the county clerk’s office when you really have a question for the board of elections, that just impedes both of them from being able to do their jobs,” said D’Alessandro.

Kaylie Writt, a student at the University of Delaware from Spotswood in Middlesex County, also says she never received her mail-in ballot. Like Meyerson, her request for a mail-in ballot to her residence in Newark, Delaware was processed in September, according to New Jersey’s voter information site. In late October, she requested another ballot, but the deadline for out-of-state absentee voting had passed. She learned via email from her county elections department that she would instead have to travel to a polling location in Spotswood, about two hours away, to drop off her ballot. 

“I am extremely disappointed in not only how difficult it has been to receive my ballot, but how confusing the communications have been as well,” said Writt in an interview. “I don’t understand how not one, but two of my ballots were lost, and how my mother did not receive hers, and how my sister registered at a completely different address did not receive hers either.”

Mail-in voting problems could stem from voter registration confusion, according to D’Alessandro. The state launched a public elections campaign over the summer designed to inform voters during this unique election process. They have used billboards, online billboards, news media and the radio in order to spread information about voting and combat misinformation that voters are receiving. 

“As a group, from the county officials on up, we’re reminding people who their trusted sources are for information,” said D’Alessandro. “While they may be very busy, everyone who works in any of these offices is committed to making sure every eligible voter is able to vote.”

However, some voters fear that not receiving a ballot is enough to discourage them from voting in the election.

“Even if a voter who didn’t care that much managed to print and send it, and they have a printer and stamps and it wasn’t that hard,” said Meyerson. “But if they never got the ballot, I don’t see people who aren’t that invested calling seven times, finding their email addresses. One roadblock and they’re done.”

Another fear among voters is that the public has doubt in the system that will lead them to not accept the outcome of this election.

“Neither party will ever consider whoever wins to be a legitimate win because they’ve set up so much doubt around that there will never be any capacity for trust in that system,” said Meyerson. “If Biden wins, the Republicans will say that it’s mail-in ballots that were fraudulent. If Trump wins, liberals will say that it’s voter suppression. I just don’t think that this election is going to end in a very peaceful manner.”

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