Some voters who cast their votes in the primary elections by mail were surprised last week to send them off in the mail and then receive them back in their mailboxes a few days later. Voters are concerned that people have or will send in a mail-in ballot and not discover until after the election that it is being mailed back to them.
Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy and a member of his staff talked with the chief operating officer of the U.S. Postal Service to discuss vote-by-mail issues, including the boomerang mail-in ballots. He mentioned the discussion when asked by a reporter at his daily press briefing if he was concerned about voting fraud after four people from Paterson were charged in a mail-in ballot fraud scheme.
Murphy said he had a “very spirited” discussion with the U.S. Postal Service representative.
“We’re trying to get the balance right, as I mentioned many times, between what is right for the principles of democracy and the access to vote, but also protecting public health,” Murphy said. “And we think that we’ve got that balance in a good place, but we take none of it for granted and we want to make sure that the Secretary of State, the Department of Elections, are monitoring this very closely as is yours truly.”
Residents in several towns in Mercer County reported on social media last week that their ballots had been returned to them in the mail. Asked by Planet Princeton whether he raised the issue with the Postal Service representative about voters in Mercer County reporting that mail-in ballot returned, Murphy acknowledged that that was one of the topics they discussed, and said a staff member had followed up with the Postal Service on the issue since the conversation.
“Mercer was one of the counties — there were a handful, my memory is that Monmouth was also on that list,” Murphy said.
Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello said she has had discussions with the South Jersey Regional Postmaster regarding the issue. The design of the ballots and envelopes was preapproved by the U.S. Postal Service. The “mail to” address is giant, she said. But some post offices have still been scanning the sender return address on the ballots instead of the “to” address, and then mailing them back to the sender.
She said the vast majority of ballots are being mailed to the elections board and a very small number are being returned to the sender. “People should contact us immediately and let us know if there is an issue,” she said, adding that she has been working on the issue and has reached out to the postmaster a few times to make sure post offices are properly scanning ballots.
If voters want to make sure their ballots make it to the county board of elections on time, they should put them in one of the five ballot boxes operated by the county, or drop them off at the board of elections at 640 South Broad Street in Trenton in person. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by July 7.
Ballot box locations:
-Princeton Municipal Building
-Hamilton Call Center – 5 Justice Samuel A Alito Jr Way, Hamilton
-Hopewell Township Administration Building in Hopewell
-Trenton- Courthouse Annex, 209 S. Broad Street, Trenton
-East Windsor Police Station, East Windsor
Voters can also go to in-person polling locations on primary day next Tuesday and cast provisional ballots. A limited number of polling locations are open in each municipality. Your location may not be the same as your regular polling place. As of Thursday morning, the state’s voter information website did not contain updated polling location information.
If you are not a Democrat or Republican and are an unaffiliated voter, you can still declare a party affiliation at the polls and vote in the primary.
Sollami Covello noted that officials were surprised at how many unaffiliated voters declared parties by the deadline. About 97,000 applications were sent out, and several thousand people declared a party, she said.