Any discussion of the decline in the number of voters always turns to voting by mail as a way to boost the number of people casting ballots.
Oregon was the first state in the nation to adopt voting by mail, and has conducted its elections exclusively by mail since 1998. It consistently has one of the highest turnout percentages in the nation: The lowest even-year (federal election) turnout this century was 69 percent in 2012. In the 2014 general election, 71 percent of Oregon’s registered voters cast ballots, roughly twice as many as in New Jersey.
Several times in recent years, individuals and groups have sought to broaden the ways to vote in New Jersey, including expanded voting by mail, but Gov. Chris Christie has vetoed the measures, saying the state already provides for voting by mail.
While it is true that New Jerseyans can cast their votes by mail, the process is not widely used and most of those registered still travel to a polling place on the first Tuesday in June and November to vote. Last year saw the largest percentage of votes cast by mail — 10.5 percent in the primary and 9.8 percent in the general election.
This year’s primary, however, saw the percentage of people sending in their ballots drop in half, according to data released last week by the New Jersey Division of Elections. Just 4.6 percent of the nearly 1.4 million who voted, or 63,442 people, did so by mail.
Political observers and election officials say the vote-by-mail turnout in New Jersey tends to be so low because few people realize it is an option. Prior to 2009, the system was widely known as absentee balloting, because the only people who could vote this way were those who were going to be out of town on Election Day or who were otherwise unable to travel to a voting location. The fact that now anyone can vote by mail is not widely publicized in most places in the state.
These are the counties with the largest percentage of voters using mail-in ballots:
Camden — 21.9 percent
Over the past several years, Camden has consistently been the county with the greatest mail-in ballot turnout. For the June primary, 20,200 people voted by mail, out of 92,070 total cast. So many use mail-in ballots here because the county clerk’s office publicizes this option: Officials visit senior centers, nursing homes, high schools, and organizations in the weeks leading up to an election to explain how to vote by mail and distribute ballots.
2. Gloucester — 7.5 percent
3,679 of a total 49,321 votes cast were mailed in
3. Cape May — 6.9 percent
1,288 of 18,666 total ballots
4. Ocean — 6.7 percent
5,928 of 88,915 total ballots
5. Hunterdon — 6.0 percent
1,707 of 28,654 total ballots
6. Burlington — 4.8 percent
3,992 of 82,597 total ballots
7. Somerset — 4.1 percent
2,287 of 56,309 total ballots
8. (tie) Sussex — 3.3 percent
902 of 27,458 total ballots
8. (tie) Cumberland — 3.3 percent
561 of 17,204 total ballots
10. Warren — 3.2 percent
659 or 20,594 total ballots