TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — There’s a big change ahead of the November elections.
New Jersey announced Friday that everyone will be able to vote by mail.
There are more than six million registered voters throughout the state, and that means post offices will be sorting through those ballots. All of it is an effort to make sure people stay safe in the middle of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
New Jersey’s primary election was done primarily through mail-in voting, which delayed the results for weeks. There were other issues, but not enough to deter Gov. Phil Murphy from announcing a hybrid model of voting this November.
“Today we are announcing that the November 3rd general election will be held overwhelmingly through vote by mail,” Murphy said.
The governor said a new online voter registration system will be up and running by September 4th.
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“All of us recognize the importance of this year’s election. Ensuring that every voter has the ability to securely cast their ballot while protecting public health is our paramount concern. The recent primary election gave us the opportunity to see what worked and where we could make improvements to this kind of election,” Murphy said.
He said this year had the second highest state primary turnout in history.
“Results here and across our nation show that making it easier to vote does not favor any one political party, but it does favor democracy. No voter should fear for the sanctity of their ballot,” Murphy said. “It means every eligible voter should be able to vote. Every vote should be safe. Every vote should be secure. And every vote should count. That shouldn’t be controversial.
WATCH: Gov. Phil Murphy Discusses Vote-By-Mail Plan
All registered voters will be sent a prepaid, postage-paid return envelope vote-by-mail from their county clerks. All ballots will be mailed by Monday, October 5. There will be no sample ballots.
“You should be checking your mailbox, and if it is the second week in October and it hasn’t arrived, do something,” said Secretary of State Tahesha Way.
Voters will have the option to return their ballots either by secure dropbox or to hand it directly to a poll worker at a polling location on election day. Ballots sent through the mail must be postmarked by November 3rd and be received no later than 8 p.m. on Nov. 10. Ballots lacking postmarks received by Nov. 5 will be considered valid.
Each municipality must open at least one in-person polling site and counties must ensure that at least of 50% of total polling places are open. There will be no classes at public schools on election day to allow for in-person voting.
“Most importantly, we’ve learned some lessons including we’re going to have more presence of drop boxes, make sure there’s that physical, in-voting capacity. And as it relates to mail-in ballots, the good news is with a general election it doesn’t matter what party you’re in, everyone gets a ballot,” Murphy said in an interview on CNN.
There is a separate concern: Funding for the U.S. Postal Service. The agency had budget shortfalls before the pandemic, which have only been made worse. As Democrats in Congress call for more funding, it’s something President Donald Trump isn’t eager to do.
“So they want $3.5 billion for universal mail-in voting for the country, where you have hundreds of millions of voters. They can’t do a little race with 20,000 people,” Trump said.
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The president has suggested without evidence mail-in voting leads to voter fraud. Despite that, at a news conference on Thursday he signaled he would not veto any coronavirus relief funding that includes money to help bolster mail-in efforts.
There are a lot of questions surrounding how, exactly, the post office will be able to handle all of those ballots.
“The postal service and its necessary funding is being turned into a political football by those who simply don’t believe in expanding ballot access,” Murphy said. “We will not let these political issues disenfranchise voters or suppress anyone’s ability or right to vote. We will not stand for it, and we are doing all we can to make sure these issues don’t stand in the way of empowering citizens.”
In July, each county had to keep at least 50% of its polling places open for in-person provisional voting.
The state Republican Party petitioned the U.S. attorney in New Jersey to install election monitors over concerns of “disenfranchisement.”
Some Democrats have also voiced concerns. Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh has said he wants there to be traditional in-person voting, saying that he was a “purist” and there was a sense of accomplishment after voting in person.
Voters are eager to have their say, regardless of how they get to do it.
“I take every election as important so, just now, really want to make sure my vote counts,” one woman told CBS2’s Kevin Rincon.
But that’s not to say some aren’t skeptical.
“I could see why they want to do the mail-in ballot, everybody, because of the COVID, but I feel it could be corrupt,” one man said.
To that, the state says it’s created safeguards at every turn. At the county level, they too are prepared.
“We are the front lines against fraud in elections and we take it very seriously,” said Nicole DiRado, the administrator at the Union County board of elections. “We are aware that maybe there are nefarious actors, but we don’t let it get by us.”
She says one tool they now have to make sure the ballots are being cast by the right person is signature verification with real-life follow-ups.
The big concern is now how much the postal service can handle. Many in Elizabeth said their mail hasn’t been delivered in days, if not weeks.
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