Presidential Primary Day in New Jersey, Mostly by Mail

An up-close look at Primary Day: more election workers, more tabulating machines — and a lot more mail-in ballots than officials had ever previously handled

Angela Braxton had lost her original mail-in ballot and raced through Union County Courthouse after getting a replacement ballot.

“I don’t really know the process. I’m not sure if these are getting to where they’re supposed to be, so that’s my general concern,” she said.

Braxton’s ballot will come to what used to be the Union County Juvenile Detention Center. It now serves as tallying central for the Board of Elections because it’s bigger than the usual center. It allows the staff to practice social distancing in their personal protective equipment to handle Braxton’s and thousands of other mailed-in ballots.

Workers tear the certification tab off the envelope that holds the ballot. Other workers open the envelope and remove the ballot without a voter’s name and stack it.

“That’s how the voter’s anonymity is maintained — the certificate is completely separated from the ballot,” said Nicole DiRado, administrator of the Union County Board of Elections. “And then once the certificates and the envelopes go away, we open the ballot and we prep the ballot to run through the machine.”

DiRado says she doubled the size of her staff and added a third tabulator, each of which can scan up to 300 ballots a minute. Ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday, July 7, or in the possession of the county clerk by the time the polls closed at 8 p.m.

“We’re expecting and prepared for between 80,000 and 100,000 vote-by-mail ballots,” she said.

Gov. Phil Murphy ordered mail-in ballots be sent to all active registered Democrats and Republicans because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. That’s more than 200,000 in Union County. Unaffiliated voters got applications to declare their affiliation; 3,000 missed the deadline to return their applications to get a ballot. But, Union County clerk Joanne Rajoppi contacted them to come to her office or go to the polls to get a paper provisional ballot.

“I don’t want anyone to feel disenfranchised,” she said. “We believe that they took the time to fill out the application, they wanted to vote, you should give them every opportunity to vote.”

The governor mandated each county have at least half its polls open to accommodate those with disabilities and voting by provisional ballot.

Vernice Wadley usually votes by mail. She just got back to town to vote and came to hand in her mail-in ballot but was told she had to drop it off elsewhere.

“I’m hoping everything will go well with the mail at the last second,” she said.

Susan Poalar voted by paper provisional ballot; election officials say these take four times longer to process than mail-in ballots. That, combined with the fact that mail-in ballots can be received up to a week after Election Day, meant some winners likely would not be known on Election Night.

“It’s going to be something that I think will take some number of days to really give this the postmortem that it needs,” Murphy said.

Despite a flurry of in-person voting at midday, poll workers in Union County said things were relatively quiet. This just might the new normal on Election Day.

This post appeared first on NJTV News.