New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order on Friday creating a modified vote-by-mail system for the November election because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The order suspends the sending of sample ballots, and requires that each county’s elections officials send vote-by-mail ballots with pre-paid postage to all active registered voters for the general election instead. Every voter will have the option to either return the ballot through a secure dropbox or turn the ballot in at a polling location on election day.
The Murphy administration is working with the New Jersey Department of State to implement a new online voter registration system so residents can register to vote remotely. The online system will launch on Sept. 4.
“COVID-19 has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives, from our health and safety to how we participate in our democracy,” Murphy said. “This virus continues to threaten public health, and with today’s announcement, we are ensuring that New Jersey voters do not have to make a decision between exercising their right to vote and protecting their well-being.”
In order to deal with the influx of vote-by-mail ballots, the executive order will extend the deadline to allow ballots being returned through the United States Postal Service with a postmark on or before Nov. 3 to be counted as valid ballots by the county clerk if the ballots are received by 8 p.m. on Nov. 10. Ballots without a postmark that are received by the county boards of elections within 48 hours of the closing of polls on Nov. 3 will be considered valid.
The executive order requires each municipality to have at least one polling place, and each county to have a minimum of 50 percent of polling locations open on election day in order to provide New Jersey voters with access to in-person voting opportunities and to accommodate for voters with disabilities.
All public schools will close for in-person instruction on Nov. 3 to allow counties to use the buildings as polling locations. Polling locations will be required to follow public health standards, including ensuring six feet of social distance and requiring poll workers to wear face coverings and gloves.
“Every voter deserves to participate in free, fair, and safe elections,” said New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way. “By sending every New Jersey voter their ballot in the mail, we are protecting the health of voters, elections workers, and our democracy.”