It’s official: President-elect Joe Biden won New Jersey by an almost 16-point margin as a record 4.64 million voters cast ballots predominantly by mail.
On Monday, the state Board of Canvassers met via Zoom to certify the vote totals and the winners of the presidential and congressional elections, three state ballot questions and two unexpired legislative seats. Unlike some other states, New Jersey’s vote went smoothly, with all members of the bipartisan body voting to certify all the results in less than 40 minutes, including time to clear up some technology glitches at the start of the morning meeting.
The job of certifying elections by county and state canvassers normally happens quietly and without fanfare. But these bodies have found themselves thrust into the public eye this year following baseless charges by President Trump and his campaign of fraud and his attacks on the election results despite certifications by officials in Republican states and his own attorney general’s statement last week that there was no widespread election fraud. Biden beat Trump in the Nov. 3 election, getting 306 electoral votes — 74 more than Trump — and 7 million more popular votes, a 4.4-point margin.
NJ certification runs like clockwork
In rapid succession, after unanimous votes by both Democrats and the two Republican members of the board — one state senator and one Assembly member from each party — Secretary of State Tahesha Way pronounced, “Motion has been made, seconded and passed to accept the results of the November 3, 2020 general election” for each seat and the ballot questions. The certifications sent Democrat Cory Booker back to the U.S. Senate for his second full term and 10 Democrats and two Republicans, all incumbents, back to the House. All three questions were approved, the most significant being the legalization of marijuana for adult recreational use, although state lawmakers are still working out the details.
Gov. Phil Murphy remarked during Monday’s briefing on the coronavirus pandemic that the certifications and ascertainment he later signed allow for Biden’s electors to meet next Monday and cast their votes for the former vice president, helping propel him to victory and to take office on Jan. 20.
“Not only was the record broken, it was shattered,” Murphy said of the nearly 4.64 million people who voted.
That number was an increase of more than 17% over the last presidential election in 2016, when 3.96 million turned out. The fact that all active registered voters received a ballot automatically in the mail likely was responsible for some of that increase, but there was great enthusiasm for or against the major party presidential candidates
No record for turnout percentage
But as the number of registered voters has increased significantly in recent years — up by 340,000 just since 2019 — the turnout percentage was only the highest since 2008. This year, 72.3% of those registered voted, compared with 72.7% in 2008, the first time former President Barack Obama was elected. New Jersey’s turnout percentage has not exceeded 80% since 1992, the last time a sitting president was unseated, when Democrat Bill Clinton defeated then-President George W. Bush by winning 370 electoral votes, including New Jersey’s 15. Turnouts of 80% or more for registered voters were routine before 1980, with the highest since 1924 coming in 1960, when 91% of New Jerseyans cast ballots and helped elect Democrat John F. Kennedy as president.
Way’s office released data showing that 93.5% of voters used the mail-in ballots sent to them, an even greater percentage than in the primary, when 87.5% voted by mail. In the general election, about 302,000 people voted in person at polling places, the vast majority by paper provisional ballot.
Roughly 66,500 ballots were rejected, a larger number than in the primary or in the 2016 general election. But the 1.4% rejection rate was a smaller percentage than in the primary (2.7%) because of the higher turnout. In 2016, about 5% of votes submitted by mail or provisionally — the methods by which nearly all ballots were cast this year — were rejected.
As in past elections, the number of rejections varied substantially among counties, with Middlesex reporting both the largest number and percentage of ballots rejected — 10,092 or about 2.6% of the total cast. Data on the reasons for rejections is still incomplete, but so far show the most common reasons why ballots were rejected were for a signature mismatch, a certificate missing or an unsigned certificate. The state does not have information yet about the number of ballots that had been questioned but were counted when a voter used a form to fix a signature or other problem.