N.J. Voters Will Get To Correct Signature Issues On Mail-in Ballots In Primary Elections

NJ.com's Rebecca Panico reports

Residents whose votes are tentatively rejected due to inconsistent or missing signatures in the upcoming July 7 primary will get the opportunity to fix their ballots after an agreement was reached Tuesday in a federal lawsuit.

The suit was filed last month against New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way by a resident with Parkinson’s disease, who said his shaking hand changed his signature. The agreement alleviates concerns from the League of Women’s Voters and NAACP in New Jersey, both plaintiffs in the case, about a mostly vote-by-mail primary election that was ordered by Gov. Phil Murphy and moved from June 2 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is unacceptable to deprive people of their franchise to vote, particularly using the unproven method of signature matching,” said NAACP New Jersey State Conference President Richard Smith. “The rejection of ballots without an opportunity to cure has occurred at the highest rates in New Jersey’s most diverse counties.”

Election officials have verified each vote in the past by comparing signatures on a ballot with the corresponding signature on a resident’s initial application.

Under the agreement reached Wednesday, county boards of elections will have to send cure letters to voters within 24 hours after the decision has been made to temporarily reject their ballots.

Cure letters will tell voters they can fix any signature impairment on their ballots by completing a form and returning it to their respective Board of Elections in person, by fax, or email by 2 p.m. on July 23. If the form is mailed, it must be received - not postmarked - by the board of elections by the close of business on July 23.

Voters won’t be required to submit a copy of an identification document.

A cure form will confirm the voter’s identity by having them provide either their driver license number, non-driver identification number or the last four digits of their social security number.

If a voter has none of those, they can attach a legible copy of either a state-accepted form of ID, an official federal, state, county, or municipal document which lists the voter’s name and address, a telephone bill, or tax or rent receipt. The address on a state-accepted identification document does not need to match the voter registration address, the agreement says.

Each county board of elections will have to report its progress on counting ballots to the New Jersey Division of Election by July 15.

The plaintiffs in the case were represented in part by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ). The agreement reached Wednesday only thus far applies to the July 7 primaries, so the case will continue.

“As part of the settlement, we will continue our challenge until these reforms are made permanent and everyone’s vote in New Jersey counts going forward,” said NJISJ President Ryan Haygood. “This case couldn’t be more important than it is right now, as we confront one of the most consequential elections in a generation.”

The New Jersey Department of State already allows voters to track the status of their mail-in ballots online. Residents must sign up to see when the ballot was mailed, when it was received by the county board of elections and whether it was accepted or rejected.

More than 30 municipalities in New Jersey conducted mostly vote-by-mail elections in May for school boards, councils or mayors. There is an ongoing dispute in Paterson after the Passaic County Board of Elections decided not to count 800 votes amid at least one investigation by federal authorities into why ballots were left on an apartment building floor.

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