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Voters in Mendham have received messages saying Gov. Murphy decided there will be no in-person voting on Nov. 3 and that only voters registered as “visually impaired” will be allowed to vote in person. The messages came by letter, text and email and appear to have been sent by the Mendham Borough Republican Committee.
The information in the messages is not true.
People in New Jersey can still vote in person, but at limited polling locations and with a provisional ballot. A provisional paper ballot is like a mail-in ballot and ensures that someone only votes once. Only voters with disabilities who can’t vote on a paper ballot will use a voting machine that is accessible under Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.
“There are a lot of bots out there,” said Robin Kline, Mendham Borough’s clerk and chief election official.
However official they may look, these messages did not come from the clerk’s office, Kline said.
“These generic emails going out make it look like they’re official but they’re really not and they’re not necessarily giving the information that is in effect.”
The Mendham Borough Republican Committee did not immediately respond for comment. The town’s mayor and council members also did not return requests for comment.
Messages like these, in emails, texts, social media posts and in a barrage of last-minute ads are worrying voters in this election season. Reports that campaigns like President Donald Trump’s are calling for an “army” of poll watchers are also raising concerns. Traditionally, designated party poll watchers observe on behalf of their candidates and look for any issues. But in this election, there has been so much misleading information about mail-in voting, there also are concerns that some party poll watchers may try to confuse voters and intimidate them.
Trump’s campaign sued New Jersey for its decision to have a mostly mail-in election. A federal judge dismissed that case citing that the claims made by the campaign were largely hypothetical and untrue.
Misleading information and misinformation campaigns are a huge trend in this election. The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a warning about the spread of disinformation regarding the results of the 2020 elections. Although it may seem like some information is accurate, sometimes there is a key detail missing that makes it inaccurate. Other times it can be completely false.
The messages that potential voters received in Mendham failed to mention the use of provisional ballots, an omission that appears designed to give a misleading impression while being technically accurate on some level. Kline stressed that in-person voting is still an option in the Morris County borough of Mendham as elsewhere in New Jersey.
Voters in New Jersey have several options this year. They are encouraged to fill out the mail-in ballots that were sent to all active, registered voters and return them to their county board of elections. They can also take their ballot to one of the secure ballot drop boxes that have been placed around each county.
Britt Paris, an assistant professor at the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University, said that information like that in the messages to Mendham voters is harmful. Not only does it confuse voters, but it also makes them distrust mail-in voting and maybe even election results. Despite this, she believes that people will still vote.
“I don’t think this is going to keep people from voting or stop them from attempting to vote in person and figuring out that they have to submit a provisional ballot,” said Paris.
Voters are encouraged to regularly check their county board of election’s website or the state for the most up-to-date information. Some towns are also posting election information.
This story was produced with tips from ProPublica’s Electionland project.