By REBECCA MEHORTER
Specially Written for The Leader/Times
COUNTY — The upcoming election is happening now, and New Jersey residents are taking advantage of early-voting options. Governor Phil Murphy announced on October 15 that more than one million New Jerseyans had already cast their votes.
In Union County, previously registered voters should have already received their ballots, according to the county clerk’s website. The county clerk’s office mailed the ballots of newly-registered voters and voters who recently changed their addresses on Tuesday. County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi said in an interview with The Westfield Leader that the first mailing consisted of approximately 320,000 ballots. She said that she is unsure how many people registered to vote by the cut-off date of October 13 but that those ballots will be going out shortly. Also going out by today, October 22, are those for people who needed to update their signature or provide identification and duplicate ballots for those who filled them out incorrectly.
According to the website, if a voter loses their vote-by-mail ballot, if the ballot is damaged or destroyed or if they did not receive it, they can request a duplicate from the county clerk’s office or visit the office to receive a new one.
Residents have posted on social media that they have received ballots for dead relatives or people who no longer live at their address. Ms. Rajoppi said there are strict rules on deleting voters from the record. She said the only way to remove a dead person from the register is for the family to send in a death certificate to the Board of Elections. However, she said, this situation is not a cause for alarm.
“Dead people can’t vote. And how do I know that? Because if they’re dead, we can verify the signature on the ballot and it’s not going to correspond to the signature we have on file,” Ms. Rajoppi said. “There is a great deal of misinformation being bandied about.”
Ms. Rajoppi said voter fraud via mail-in ballots has been studied by scholars and practitioners and deemed highly unlikely.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I would say only in one instance in those 25 years have I had a suspicion that there was a hanky-panky going on, and that was cleared up immediately,” she said.
Filling out someone else’s ballot, she said, can lead to a fine and jail time. The exception is for an assister, who must sign that they have assisted someone in filling out the ballot.
The county Board of Elections is responsible for certifying ballots and uses signatures on file to confirm the identity of the voter. The county clerk’s office is responsible for sending the ballot, tallying election results and certifying the election.
Ms. Rajoppi said no one at either office will know who residents voted for. She said the certificate envelope is detached from the ballot 10 days before the election and then the ballot is opened.
There are instances where people sign the ballot, she said, and this invalidates the ballot.
“Nobody knows how you voted your ballot — no one,” Ms. Rajoppi said. “It’s not attached to your name or identified in any way.”
Voters are reminded that there are three public questions on the back of the ballot. One is in regard to legalizing marijuana. The other is related to tax deduction and exemption for peacetime veterans, and the last is a constitutional amendment to “change the legislative redistricting schedule if census data is delayed.”
If voters are concerned with where their ballot is in the process, they can track their ballot using https://voter.svrs.nj.gov/auth/sign-in. Voters are encouraged to use the secure ballot drop-off boxes. Scotch Plains’ box is located at the Scotch Plains Public Library and Westfield’s at the Colleen Fraser Building. A ballot bearer, or a person who either mails or delivers another person’s ballot, can take up to three other ballots with them to turn in. Ms. Rajoppi said bearers must sign on the return envelope that they are handing in someone else’s ballot.
“There are cameras at every ballot box,” she said. “If someone didn’t fill it out that they’re carrying that ballot for someone else, it invalidates the ballot.”
Registered voters who do not wish to use their mail-in ballot can go to a polling station on Tuesday, November 3, but machine voting will only be available to voters who have disabilities that prevent them from using a paper ballot. Those without disabilities will be given a provisional ballot, which is a paper ballot and is “more involved than a vote-by-mail ballot,” Ms. Rajoppi said, because the voter must sign an affidavit that they have not voted by any other means. Provisional ballots are the last to be counted to ensure the voter has not attempted to vote twice. As long as the voter did not vote by mail and fills out the ballot properly, these votes will be counted, Ms. Rajoppi told The Leader.
All properly-cast ballots will be counted. The website says two common errors that cause ballots to be rejected are neglecting to sign the certification or tampering with the certificate of election. The Board of Elections will notify voters whose ballots are rejected and provide them the opportunity to correct the issue, Ms. Rajoppi said.
Ms. Rajoppi said one mistake she is seeing is voters handing in their ballots and certificate envelopes without the return envelope. As said on the website, “The voter ballot shall be placed and sealed in the Certificate Envelope, which shall be completed and signed by you, the voter. Then, the entire Certificate Envelope is placed in the pre-paid mailing envelope addressed to the Union County Board of Elections.”
Because the election is primarily vote-by-mail, the clerk’s office has been given more time by the Board of Elections to receive and count ballots. Because of this, election results may not be finalized until Monday, November 23. “Every effort will be made to provide results as quickly as possible. The goal is to be accurate,” the website says.
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