Lawsuit in NJ Seeks to Limit Vote-By-Mail Ballot Rejections

NJ 101.5's Michael Symons reports

A coalition of New Jersey groups that includes the League of Women Voters, the NAACP and the Institute for Social Justice have sued the state in a bid to limit the number of people whose mail-in ballots get rejected in the July 7 primary.

In a typical election, about 1% of mail-in ballots are rejected. But voting-rights groups say it could be much higher in the primary if hundreds of thousands vote that way for the first time and risk flunking the signature match that is required.

Signatures on mailed-in ballots are compared with those on file – and if they don’t match, they’re rejected. Jesse Burns, executive director of the League of Women Voters, said the problem is that voters aren’t give a chance to say, yes, that vote’s really from me.

Police Chief Kyle Kroll Addresses Community Regarding Tragic Death of George Floyd Soma Staff report

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - The following letter to the community has been issued by Police Chief Kyle Kroll, with a request that it be made available to the community at the earliest possible time:

To Our South Orange Community:

Far too often, law enforcement personnel remain silent when we should be leaders in holding others in our own profession and ranks accountable. Our lack or perceived lack of moral courage to speak can easily lead the public to believe we are complacent.

COVID-19 Stalls Efforts to Help People With Felony Convictions Register to Vote

The Appeal's Stephanie Wykstra reports

In December, Kentucky advocates began hosting in-person meetings and going door-to-door, informing people with felony convictions that they might now be eligible to vote due to an order by Governor Andy Beshear that restored the right to vote to about 140,000 residents. 

But when COVID-19 hit, said Debbie Graner, “everything went to hell in a handbasket.” 

As a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), a nonprofit group that advocates for voting rights, Graner had pushed the state to expand the right to vote for years. She was disenfranchised herself and promptly registered to vote after Beshear’s order. 

N.J.’s ‘Hybrid’ Primary Election Sensible For These Times | Editorial

South Jersey Times Editorial Board writes

So far, so good, with plans for New Jersey’s primary elections, now scheduled for July 7.

Gov. Phil Murphy has issued guidelines for what some are calling a “hybrid” election, in which vote-by-mail options will be expanded and in-person voting will be available on a limited basis. Given the extreme circumstances, this is the best solution that participation advocates could hope for.

N.J. is Arbitrarily Throwing Out Thousands of Mail-In Ballots, Lawsuit Says's Blake Nelson reports

Ahead of a surge in mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus, New Jersey voting rights and social justice groups are suing to change how the state counts votes.

In order to verify a ballot, election officials currently compare the signature on a ballot with the corresponding signature on the initial application, according to state law.

Organizations Sue, Try to Force State to Fix Problems with Vote-by-Mail Signature Verification

NJ Spotlight's Colleen O'Dea reports

Thousands of New Jerseyans’ votes were not counted in each of the last two federal elections due to issues with their signatures on mail-in ballots, two prominent organizations point out. This has prompted them to sue the state in federal court to try to force it to fix a signature verification system they contend is unconstitutional.

The League of Women Voters of New Jersey, NAACP New Jersey State Conference and a disabled voter filed a complaint Monday in U.S. District Court against New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way, whose department oversees elections, alleging the state’s current law regarding the verification of vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots violates both the 1st and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. They contend the state disenfranchises thousands of voters every year by a system that allows county officials to reject a VBM ballot when a signature does not match the one on file without telling the voter and giving him a chance to prove he voted, as some other states do.

Voting Rights Groups Laud Murphy’s Hybrid Primary Plan

New Jersey Globe's Nikita Biryukov reports

Three voting rights organizations lauded Gov. Phil Murphy’s plan for a hybrid primary in July on Monday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, and the League of Women Voters of New Jersey celebrated the state’s plan to send mail-in ballots to at least 5.7 million voters in a bid to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at the ballot box.

“In these extraordinary times, maintaining and expanding access to the ballot are urgent, and we applaud Gov. Murphy for taking steps to safeguard the health of our democracy and the public health of our state,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha.  “As the pandemic exacerbates racial injustices across many fault lines, we must take measures to ensure the most fundamental rights are protected, particularly for communities of color who have been routinely disenfranchised since our founding.”

Will NJ Primary be Vote-by-Mail? After Tuesday it's in Limbo

Trenton Bureau's Stacey Barchenger, Katie Sobko and Richard Cowen report

The official results from dozens of local elections held by mail on Tuesday are still being tallied, leaving many races too close to call and the fate of the upcoming primary itself in question.

Because traditional in-person voting risked spreading the coronavirus, voters instead mailed in their ballots for Tuesday's more than 30 municipal, school board and special elections across the state. The election was seen as a bellwether for how voters will cast ballots in the primary, which has been delayed from June to July because of the novel coronavirus crisis.

Gov. Murphy, We Choose to Vote in Person and By Mail

Institute President & CEO Ryan Haygood writes

In the midst of a devastating pandemic, New Jersey is considering whether our July primary election should be a traditional in-person voting system or all vote-by-mail. Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to make an announcement any day now.

But this is a false choice between two limited options, each of which will suppress a significant number of votes – particularly, as we are already experiencing in this public health crisis, disproportionately impacting Black and other people of color and other vulnerable populations. The coronavirus pandemic has already exposed cracks in our foundation that are causing earthquakes in Black and other communities of color already besieged by structural racism. We must not make that worse.

Seven Days in Solitary

Solitary Watch's Valerie Kiebala reports

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) published an article highlighting the impending danger posed by severe negligence at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, where deaths caused by indifference to medical conditions have been documented from before the COVID-19 outbreak. Roger Rayson, a 47-year-old from Jamaica, was the first immigrant to die in ICE custody under Trump in 2017. Instead of receiving medical care for his advanced cancer and despite his reports of “constant, knife-like pain,” Rayson was placed in solitary for nine days at the LaSalle Processing Center in Louisiana, during which he never once saw a doctor and his condition brutally worsened. Two ICE facilities—the Hudson County Correctional Facility in New Jersey and the LaSalle facility—each saw a death due to negligence prior to the pandemic and both now suffer from an outbreak of the virus. Hudson County has been locking people down for “almost 24 hours a day since March 22,” but four employees have already died from the virus. According to ICE, as of April 27, 425 detained immigrants have tested positive for the virus, but the true number is most certainly higher, since only 705 people have been tested of the 30,700 people in ICE detention.