More than 1 million New Jerseyans have already voted in this year’s general election, about a quarter of the total expected to cast ballots, which could foretell a higher turnout than anticipated.
More than half of the nearly 1.05 million who had returned mail-in ballots through Oct. 13 are Democrats — 565,239 — with Republicans and unaffiliated voters each comprising about 23% of ballots returned, an NJ Spotlight News analysis of a state vote-by-mail database found.
Democrats outnumbered both Republicans and the unaffiliated in total voter registration as of Oct. 1, comprising 39% of all of the nearly 6.4 million registrants.
Initially, officials were expecting some 4 million New Jerseyans would vote in this year’s high-stakes federal elections, but some say the early enthusiasm could indicate an even higher turnout. In the 2016 presidential election, 3.96 million people voted, about 68% of all those registered. A similar turnout this year would mean about 4.3 million voting.
“Based on what we’ve seen so far, I believe it is likely we’ll exceed the 2016 turnout,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “The numbers look quite good.”
GOP pushing back on voting by mail
That more Democrats have voted by mail than Republicans is not surprising, given the GOP as a whole has pushed back on mail-in balloting, following President Trump’s lead.
“My guess is that many of these votes are in the Democratic suburbs throughout the state, where Trump is hated, the voters have time to pay attention, experience with VBM (vote-by-mail) and their localities are aggressively promoting their ballot drop-off box,” said Matthew Hale, a professor of political science and public affairs at Seton Hall University.
Democrats have also returned their ballots at greater rates statewide: Almost a quarter of all Democrats who got a ballot have mailed it back or placed it in a drop box, compared with about 18% of Republicans and 11% of those not affiliated with a major party. Overall, close to 18% of 5.97 million ballots mailed out were returned by Oct. 13. County clerks were required to send a ballot to every active registered voter, and all those should have been received by now.
Return rates vary significantly throughout the state, often by party but also by receipt date — although clerks did not have to mail out ballots until Oct. 5, 82% of ballots were sent out in September.
Lambertville leads the state
Voters in Lambertville, a Democratic enclave along the Delaware River in southern Hunterdon County, were leading the state in returned ballots, with a return rate of more than 51%. More than three-quarters of votes cast so far were by Democrats. More than 40% of voters in West Wildwood, Barnegat Light and Harvey Cedars in South Jersey had returned their ballots, with Republican ballots cast outnumbering Democrats in West Wildwood and Barnegat Light. Other than the tiny communities of Pine Valley and Tavistock, the lowest return rates were among Mercer County municipalities.
Rasmussen said voters are increasingly finding that voting by mail is safe and convenient.
“You do hear some grumbling about the hiccups, but for the most part, voters are pleased with the accessibility of the drop boxes and the ability to track their ballots,” he said.
New Jerseyans have until 8 p.m. on Election Day to return their ballots either in person at their local polling location or to county election officials, or in one of the drop boxes located around their county, or have their ballots postmarked by Nov. 3.