Will our votes get counted on time?
Yes. But every voter can do their part to help with the flow and volume. We can expect to have an exponential increase in vote-by-mail ballots with coronavirus. We can expect to have a large voter turnout due to Presidential year election. We all must do our part to vote and vote early so that our county Election Officials can:
- plan for staffing for ballot pick up at ballot drop boxes
- process the mail-in ballots as they come in,
- plan for, recruit, hire, and train the staffing needed for Election Day,
- work with school districts to use their facilities as polling places for Election Day
- coordinate with USPS retail locations to ensure timely processing and delivery of mail-in ballots
What can voters do to help to ensure ballots get counted in time?
Voters are the critical component in how and when our county Election Officials can get everything done in time for the Electoral College to meet on December 14th. What we learned is that on a “normal” schedule when County Clerks can send ballots out on time, which is 45 days prior to Election Day, New Jersey voters start returning their ballots immediately. The highest day for return for the 2019 General Election was the Monday after the first week after the ballots started mailing out. The trend line in pink can be seen trending downward. This allows our county officials time to start processing ballots – not counting – as they come in.
How are mail-in ballots processed?
R.S. 19:63-17 requires the board of elections to start the processing of mail-in ballots as soon as they are received. To make clear: the processing does NOT include the counting of ballots or the counting of the votes until 10 days before Election Day. It is a crime of the third degree punishable to up to 5 years imprisonment for anyone to reveal the ballot counts prior to the close of the polls on Election Day. The time- and labor-intensive part precedes the counting and the sooner voters get their ballots in, the more time elections officials can start working on them. This includes:
- Scanning the unique voter barcode on the outer envelope which tracks the receipt date
- Reviewing the Bearer Portion to ensure that is filled out fully and correctly if a Bearer was used.
- Checking to see if the Certificate of Mail-in Voter is attached. Missing certificates is the third highest reason that ballots are rejected. (2020 Primary Election data)
- Checking to see if the voter signed their Certificate of Mail-in Voter. The number one reason for ballot rejection – over 26% or 1 in 4 voters (in elections 2015-2019) – is because voters forget to sign this certificate.
- Checking to see if the ballot is enclosed. This is the 7th reason for rejection and can be done by weight or by holding up to a light source and one can see it’s an empty inner envelope.
- Bipartisan boards are required to meet together when determining signature validity/mismatch. Signatures not matching to the one on file is the fourth reason for rejection. Under EO 177, they are required to meet 4 times a week starting October 13th.
The counting of the ballots by high-speed optical scanners that can count 130 ballots/minute can begin at 6:01am on Election Day, November 3rd. Note that the public announcement of these counts cannot start until AFTER the CLOSE of Election Day, 8:00pm.
What happened in the July 7th Primary Election?
Our timeline was not normal: it was truncated due to the state of emergency under coronavirus. The Governor’s Executive Order 144 that pushed our election to July 7th was not announced until May 14th. This announcement required all active registered Democratic and Republican voters to be mailed a vote-by-mail ballot without having to apply, and every active registered Unaffiliated voter (and other Dems and Republicans who are inactive) a newly-created Application for Mail-in Ballot. To the huge credit of our county Election Officials, our County Clerks who are tasked to print and mail these ballots and applications, they were able to mail out a majority of the ballots after a 2-week lag needed to get them printed.
What about voters? When did ballots start coming back?
The small yellow bar above is June 12th, the day where the bulk (92%) of mail-in ballots had sent out. While we do see our first large number of returns on that Monday after (June 15th) and the subsequent 3 weeks, we see that about ONE in FOUR voters’ ballots were not received until the crucial days of July 6th – July 9th. While the trend line is downward, we should really vote early and get it in earlier.
*Note that in these graphs, outlier numbers were removed: ballots mailed prior to May 28th where the total percentage mailed was less than 0.5%; ballots received before June 11th were less than 1.7%.
What does this all mean for the November Election?
With Governor Murphy acting on Aug 14 with the Executive Order, this allows our elections officials to plan and execute. We, the voters, are a major factor in getting all votes counted *in time*. So, vote early and get it in.
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