Mail-in ballots counting

Atlantic County Board of Elections 

More than a week ago voters went to the polls in Atlantic County to select state and local representatives. Thanks to a balloting fiasco created by the Legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy, and aggravated by mistakes at the county level, the final results remain unknown. Processing and counting ballots resumes today.

The trouble began when Democrats in Trenton passed and Murphy signed a bill to increase the flood of mail-in ballots in August — less than three months before Election Day, ensuring a rush job by New Jersey’s election bureaucracy.

The new law ordered that mail-in ballots be sent to tens of thousands — maybe hundreds of thousands — of people who did not request them for the election. If they asked for a mail-in ballot from 2016 to 2018, say to vote while on vacation as good citizens do, they got one this year whether they wanted it or not.

In Atlantic County alone, 26,500 mail-in ballots were sent out. Only about 9,000 were used, hopefully by the people they were intended for.

When people who got a mail-in ballot they didn’t request showed up at their local polling places to vote, they weren’t allowed to use the voting machines because they had already received their ballot. They had to vote with a provisional ballot, asserting they had not used the mail-in ballot they didn’t want.

Processing these alternate methods of voting can’t even begin until three days after the election because state law requires mail-in ballots be accepted 48 hours after polls close as long as a postmark indicates it was mailed by Election Day.

Each of the 2,068 provisional ballots then needed to be checked by the county superintendent of elections to determine if and why they were needed.

So today, the county Board of Elections finally gets on with going over and counting each provisional ballot, plus a few hundred more mail-in ballots officials hadn’t gotten to.

The County Clerk’s Office also added its own problems to the balloting process.

About half the mail-in ballots were given the wrong bar codes and couldn’t be read by machines, an error blamed on the printer but even so, not caught by the county clerk in time. Each of those requires typing in its number and a worker from the other political party double checking that for accuracy.

Mail-in ballots in Buena Vista Township didn’t give voters spaces to fill in to indicate their choices, so replacements were printed and mailed.

In all of Atlantic County, the clerk’s office sent the form for opting out of getting a mail-in ballot in the same envelope that included the mail-in ballot itself. And since the package didn’t include a separate addressed envelope for the opt-out form to be sent back to the clerk, some people put the form in the envelope for returning a completed mail-in ballot and sent it to the Board of Elections. Those envelopes couldn’t be opened until Election Day, ensuring confusion and difficulty voting.

All of this is unacceptable and easily avoidable. In this age of digital information processing, it shouldn’t take a week or more to deliver final election results that used to take a couple of days.

State officials should rethink their intentional flooding of the electorate with mail-in ballots. It creates confusion, forces much too much provisional voting, and increases the risk of vote fraud and a loss of public confidence in elections. There’s already an excess of all of those and it’s troubling.

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