Election 2018: Some provisional ballots thrown out in Princeton

Election workers in some voting districts in Princeton failed to properly seal the canvas bags that contained paper provisional ballots for the Nov. 6 general election. The provisional ballots in those bags can’t be counted under state law, officials said today.

It is unclear how many ballots from Princeton voters were tossed out. Provisional ballots in five districts were thrown out because of worker errors. The head of the the Mercer County Board of Elections is at the annual League of Municipalities convention and said she will be able to provide details on the number of ballots that were tossed out by Friday.

Joanne Palmucci, chairwoman of the board, said if the canvas bags containing provisional ballots are open or are not sealed properly, the ballots can not be counted because the chain of custody has been broken. Poll workers deliver the bags to the clerk after the polls close. The bags are then delivered to the office of the Mercer County Superintendent of Elections. 

Workers at the polls are trained thoroughly but sometimes they do not closed the bags properly, Palmucci said. Sometimes the bags don’t seal properly, she said. Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami-Covello said poll workers are supposed to report broken seals to the clerk’s office. New seals can be delivered to the polling locations. 

Some of the provisional ballots were ballots from voters who were on the permanent list to vote by mail.  The Mercer County clerk mailed every voter who cast a ballot by mail in 2016 a notice that they would be on the permanent mail-in ballot list to due to a law change in August of this year. The letter gave them an opportunity to opt out of the vote by mail list by returning a card. More than 2,600 Princeton residents are registered to vote by mail, according to the Mercer County Clerk’s office.

Some mail-in ballots were not counted because the voters put the ballots in the envelope backward, hiding the name and address from the envelope window. If workers can read enough to get a name and address, the ballots are scanned and counted. But workers are not allowed to open the envelope to determine the identity of the voter. “We wish that in New Jersey, we could have all of that information on the outside of the envelope like some other states,” she said. “It would make life simpler. You can’t screw up the ballot that way.”

Palmucci said the number of voters who did not follow the directions for mailing back their ballots was much lower than last year. Sollami-Covello said the mail-in ballot envelopes were redesigned this year.