Increase in mail-in ballots could delay final election tally

Union resident Carmen Caldero is casting her vote nearly a full 24 hours before the polls open.

Anyone hoping to use a vote by mail ballot had until 3 p.m. Monday to apply in-person at their county clerk’s office. A new law this election cycle required county clerks to automatically mail ballots to any voter who used one in the 2016 presidential election. That’s drastically changing the landscape of early voting this year.

“We’re seeing a historic high — very, very unusual. Normally we have activity in midterm elections, maybe 12,000 voters that come in prior to Election Day. I have over 30,000,” said Joanne Rajoppi, Union County Clerk.

Nationwide more than 20 million Americans have already cast a ballot. The New Jersey Division of Elections is reporting record highs across the state. As of Nov. 2 more than 554,000 vote by mail ballots were issued, with 52 percent returned. A midterm to midterm comparison shows just over 143,000 vote by mail ballots cast in 2014. That’s an increase of 287 percent.

“My staff has worked Saturdays and Sundays and they’ve worked most nights until at least 7’o clock at night. It’s tremendous volume,” Rajoppi said.

“One of the reasons this was passed by this particular administration, by this particular Legislature, is because it benefits Democrats. Democrats have a 15-point advantage in registration. They have a 15-point advantage in vote by mail. The type of voter who votes in a presidential election, but doesn’t come out in the midterm — more likely to be Democrats,” Director of Monmouth Polling, Patrick Murray, said.

Vote by mail ballots used to require an arrival deadline by 8 p.m. on election night. Now voters will get an extra two days as long as ballots are postmarked by Nov. 6. If you requested, but didn’t receive your vote by mail ballot, or forgot you had one, you can still vote at your polling site on Election Day using what’s called a provisional, paper ballot.

It’s the provisional ballots that could be especially tricky this year. They’ll likely not to be counted until the Friday after the election. That’s after they’re sorted by hand and sent to the superintendent of elections to be verified. Rajoppi says it could take a couple of weeks.

“I suspect that there will be thousands and thousands because many people who got an absentee forgot that they got it or perhaps lost it,” she said.

But is there a possibility then that if the margins are close, there may not be an answer for a few weeks?

“I’ve told people that you may not have the answer until the following week, at least,” said Rajoppi.

Which means if you’re planning to stay up on election night waiting for returns on all the races, you better put on an extra pot of coffee.