A behind the scenes look at vote counting in New Jersey

The vote tabulators are running overtime at the Union County Board of Elections days after New Jerseyans carried out the governor’s executive order for the July 7 primary election and voted mostly by mail because of the pandemic.

NJTV News got a behind-the-scenes look at election commissioners making decisions on questionable ballots.

Most of the ballots in question have signature issues. Things like a voter’s signature this month not matching a signature from registration, or the last time that person voted.

“And if they don’t match, then a cure letter goes out giving the voter an opportunity to send in the proof that that was them that filled out the ballot, that they give their ID, that they give their signature again. We keep that on file, and then that vote will count. If we don’t receive anything, those votes are going to have to be disapproved,” said Clara Harelik, Union Country Board of Elections commissioner.

A recently settled lawsuit gives voters more time to cure a deficiency, all the way until 2 p.m. on July 23 – the day before the board must certify the election results.

As of Friday in Union County, mail-in ballots top 60,000, with scores more in mail trays and collected from drop-off boxes.

“And I’m not one of the bigger counties. But we are all going through this. It is exponentially more than we’ve ever dealt with before,” Nicole DiRado, Union County Board of Elections administrator, said.

The board can count mail-in ballots received by July 15. After that, it can begin counting thousands of paper provisional ballots of those who insisted on voting in person on a day when only half the polling stations were open.

Before ballots reach the tabulators, they go to employees. One group opens the mail and removes the certification tab that identifies the voter. Another opens the ballot envelope and, like Ethelyne Grimsley, pulls out the ballot and puts them all in separate stacks. It’s a routine repeated thousands of times, but requires workers to catch potential flaws.

“Yesterday, I ran across a ballot where the person voted for the line and then went over to the side of the ballot and signed the same names,” Grimsley said.

Veteran election workers compare this vote-by-mail election with traditional ones.

“Sheer volume. It’s crazy,” said Union County Board of Elections employee Robinson Rojas.

And it will for two more weeks.

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