NJ primaries in July to be mostly vote-by-mail elections, raising concerns among some voters

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Friday that the state’s primary races that were moved from June to July 7 because of the COVID-19 pandemic will be mostly vote-by-mail elections, with a limited number of in-person polling places open.

The decision drew questions from reporters and criticism from some voters who worry about fraud. Hundreds of mail-in votes were set aside in Paterson after the recent non-partisan election there. There have been claims that mass batches of ballots were sent to the county after images showed bundles of mail-in votes. A town over from Paterson in Haledon, postal workers discovered a bundle of 300 Paterson city ballots in a mailbox there. There have also been reports of postal workers leaving stacks of ballots in building lobbies because voting rolls have outdated addresses listed.

Asked about allegations of mail-in ballot box stuffing in Paterson, Murphy said the state had no choice when deciding to shift to voting by mail because of the pandemic. “We cannot responsibly plan for an in-person election two months away as a health matter, he said. “We just don’t have any other choice but to vote by mail. There will be some places where people can physically vote if they want.”

Murphy said all registered Democrats and all registered Republicans will receive a postage-paid, vote-by-mail ballot in the mail. Unregistered and unaffiliated voters will receive a vote-by-mail application in the mail. In addition to mailing ballots via the U.S. Postal Services, counties will provide secure drop boxes where voters can turn in ballots. Every municipality must have at least one polling place on election day, and at least 50 percent of the normal locations in the county must be open. Social distancing protocols will be enforced, and voting machines will be sanitized after each person votes, Murphy said.

Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by July 7, but the date for ballots to be received in the mail by counties has been extended from 48 hours after polls close to seven days after the polls close.

“The goals are to maximize democracy while minimizing the risk of illness,” Murphy said, adding that the election process will promote safety and the democratic process.