Voters soon may want to either use one of the county’s five secure drop boxes or hand deliver vote-by-mail ballots to the Atlantic County Board of Elections.
Either option may be better than mailing the ballots back, said board Chair Lynn Caterson on Monday.
The overwhelming number of ballots being sent out and received by county offices is making it difficult to get ballots into everyone’s hands early enough to count on the mail for returning them on time, she said.
On top of that, voters who have applied for a vote-by-mail ballot and are still waiting for it to arrive may not get one by the July 7 Primary Election Day. Their only option may be to vote at the polls, Caterson said.
Her office has already received about 28,000 filled-out ballots by Friday afternoon, Caterson said. About 105,000 such ballots were sent to registered voters who declared as Democrats or Republicans. A number for previously unaffiliated voters who requested a primary ballot was not available.
The U.S. Postal Service is recommending that voters mail their ballots at least one week before the due date — next Tuesday, July 7, said USPS spokesman Ray Daiutolo.
Daiutolo said Atlantic County’s ballots are prepaid for First Class mail, which is usually delivered within 2-5 days. Under state law, ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day to be counted, and for this election can be received by the board up to seven days after the close of polls.
However, voters can still request a vote-by-mail ballot through Tuesday, June 30, a week before the primary vote. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for the application to be vetted and a ballot sent out in time.
Potential voters can also appear in person any time up to the day before the election to request a ballot.
Problems with the Statewide Voter Registration System, the computer system relied on by clerks to do that research, have also complicated the process, Caterson said. It has been crashing due to high volume of use.
“Legally, it’s in time (to request a mail-in-ballot) if received today,” Caterson said. “But, we are hearing from the head of USPS he cannot promise that, even if timely mailed, it will get there before Election Day.”
The time frame is shortened by the major holiday weekend.
Each town will have at least one polling place open, with machines for the handicapped only. Many towns will have several polling locations open.
But under Murphy’s order, most people who go to the polls on Election Day must vote with a provisional paper ballot.
“It is going to be hot, and masks are required as well as 6-foot social distancing,” Caterson said. “We do not want to make those lines longer, but given what USPS has actually said, if you haven’t mailed it in by now, go to the polls.”
Murphy ordered a mostly vote-by-mail election as a way of minimizing spread of COVID-19 infection.
The hotly contested Democratic primary in the 2nd Congressional District for the right to try to oust U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, is no doubt driving some of the voting volume.
Longport’s Brigid Callahan Harrison, a professor at Montclair State University; Brigantine’s Amy Kennedy, a mental health advocate and former teacher, and Vineland’s Will Cunningham, a former staffer with the House Oversight Committee in Washington, D.C., all have raised enough money to have to file Federal Election Commission reports.
West Cape May Commissioner John Francis is also in the race, along with Brigantine’s Robert Turkavage, a retired FBI agent.
“Voters in Ocean County traditionally like to go to the polls,” said Ocean County Freeholder Virginia E. Haines, liaison to the Ocean County Board of Elections. The county is one of the few in which Republicans outnumber Democrats. There are 89,000 registered Democrats and 145,000 registered Republicans, according to state data.
The Ocean County Clerk and Ocean County Board of Elections staff will be available to assist registered voters in person during special extended hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., starting on Tuesday, June 30 through Friday, July 3, and also on July 6 and 7. Staff members will be helping voters in the Mancini Room at the Ocean County Library, 101 Washington St., Toms River.
Extended hours with in-person help will be available starting June 30 as this marks the last day an application from an unaffiliated voter can arrive by mail at the Ocean County Clerk’s office.
Staff will be available to assist registered voters who may need to obtain a vote by mail ballot to get one in person.
“Voters can not only obtain a vote-by-mail ballot during these extended hours, but can actually vote the ballot and return it to the Board of Elections all at the same time in one location,” said Ocean County Freeholder Gary Quinn, who serves as liaison to the county Clerk’s Office.
During the last few weeks, more than 234,000 ballots have been sent to registered voters, according to the county. And as of June 24, almost 53,000 ballots had been returned to the Board of Elections, Haines said.
“Four years ago, during the last Presidential Primary Election, 5,928 mail in ballots were received and almost 83,000 votes were cast at the polls,” she said.