Franklin Borough looks to hold in-person voting in November, but outside

A senior center in Franklin Borough has been a general election polling center for years. Councilman Stephen Skellenger says he has a simple solution to keep it that way for the next election.

“We have the facilities, and many towns do, to set up outdoor voting,” Skellenger said. “I actually got the idea when I was out at a restaurant a couple of weeks ago.”

In August, Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order requiring vote-by-mail ballots be sent to all active registered voters to cut down on long voting lines during the pandemic. Voters can return their ballots in a drop box or hand it at a polling location on Election Day.

The council of the Borough of Franklin passed a resolution last week calling on the governor to allow them to do traditional voting, but outside.

“With machine voting people are comfortable with that,” Skellenger said.

“If you can sit in a casino in Atlantic City, if people can shop and stand in line at DMV, motor vehicles for eight to 10 hours at a time, go into these antiquated buildings, have to press all the same buttons to make their payments, I want somebody, anyone in this state, to explain to me how and why voting in person is somehow different,” Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi said.

Schepisi believes blocking in-person voting is a political move that has nothing to do with the health and safety of residents.

“Vote-by-mail has always favored the Democrats. And while I don’t think New Jersey is going to be the determining state for purposes of presidential election, we do have at least four or five hotly contested congressional races that can shape and change the entire balance of power in Congress,” Schepisi said.

“There’s no prohibition in our model against showing up on Election Day and voting. Period. It happens to be a paper ballot. That’s the only difference,” the governor said.

The assemblywoman is concerned about potential voter fraud and that mail-in ballots can be counted 10 days before the election. She fears information could leak. It is a crime of the third degree if you disclose information.

“We have at least seven county chairs in the state of New Jersey who are political chairs, who are also on the county Board of Elections, who will be counting these ballots,” Schepisi said.

Skellenger believes his solution is a good middle ground. Franklin resident Bill McNeir is waiting to see how it plays out but he’ll most likely vote by mail.

“I think a lot more people would feel safe with the mail in ballots than coming out physically to vote,” McNeir said. “And what happens with the weather? We don’t know what the weather’s going to be. And if you’re under a tent, are people going to feel comfortable under a tent? How’s the voting going to be? Are these electric machines? How’s the power going to be? All kind of little nuances.”

The councilman says he wants his borough of roughly 5,000 people to have options.