Nearly all NJ election results are set but the counting continues

NJ starts work of tallying ballots actually cast on Election Day, while looking to ‘cure’ signature problems with mail-in votes
Credit: (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Oct. 29, 2020: Elcy Londono prepares mail-in ballots for counting in Linden, Union County.

Most New Jersey counties have finished or are close to finishing their counts of mail-in ballots, but the work of finalizing this election is still nowhere near completed.

Election workers now are turning their attention to the paper provisional ballots cast at open polling locations on Election Day. How many of these ballots there are is still unknown, although the state Division of Elections hopes to get an idea as early as Wednesday.

As of 9 a.m. Tuesday, some 4.37 million mail-in ballots had been received by counties, according to the division. That’s about 72% of the 6.05 million ballots automatically sent to all active, registered voters in the state after Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law to conduct this year’s general election primarily using mail-in ballots because of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic in the state.

It is also likely that counties received more ballots through mail delivery. Any ballot postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by Nov. 10 can be counted. Once these have been all been processed, county officials could begin tallying provisional ballots — starting either last night or Wednesday morning.

Even without any provisional votes counted, the number of ballots already cast this year is now at almost 69% of registered voters, which is a greater proportion than the turnout in either 2012 or 2016. The number of ballots cast is a record high.

All of New Jersey’s congressional races have been called by The Associated Press, but the margins of victory in some could narrow as provisional votes are counted.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the closest race is in the 7th District, which stretches from Hunterdon and parts of Warren counties east into Union County. There, Rep. Tom Malinowski, a freshman Democrat, leads Republican Tom Kean, the minority leader in the state Senate, by about 14,000 votes or 4% of expected votes cast. Malinowski was one of four Democrats to flip formerly red districts in the state’s blue wave in 2018. Kean has yet to concede.

The counting of provisional ballots cannot begin until all mail-in ballots are processed so that officials can be sure no one has voted twice — once by mail and again in person with a provisional ballot.

Another step before it’s all over

Also continuing is the ballot cure process. As county election officials review the signatures on mail-in ballots, any that do not appear to match the signatures on file for that voter are set aside. Officials are then required to send a letter with a form for the voter to sign and return affirming that he did submit the ballot. These forms are due back to counties by Nov. 18.

Voters concerned that their ballots be counted have been checking the state’s ballot tracker, but ballot status is not being updated until all votes are certified on Nov. 20, according to state officials.

The best way for voters to ensure their ballots are counted is to check the mail for a cure letter from the county. Voters with reason to believe their ballot may be rejected — for instance, registering through a motor vehicle agency where signing on a pin pad can produce a distorted signature — can try calling their county board of elections to ask if a ballot is being questioned.

New Jerseyans voted overwhelmingly for President-elect Joe Biden, the Democrat, giving him a nearly 17-point margin over President Donald Trump, although that could narrow if more Republicans voted in person by provisional ballot than Democrats.

Provisional ballots could make a difference in local and county races that are currently close, as well as the contest for two unexpired terms in the state Legislature representing part of Morris County in the 25th District.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Republican Sen. Anthony Bucco was ahead by about 1,700 votes in defending his seat against Rupande Mehta, while freshman Assemblywoman Aura Dunn, also a Republican, was trailing Democratic challenger Darcy Draeger by about 1 point, or less than 800 votes.