Patch's Eric Kiefer reports
NEWARK, NJ — Ryan Haygood went to his Newark polling place early Tuesday morning, eager to vote in New Jersey's 2021 primary election. There was just one problem – a total absence of voting machines.
Haygood, president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ), says he was one of many Brick City residents who ran into election day troubles earlier this week.
As reported by the New Jersey Globe, 33 voting machines, mostly for polling locations in Newark's predominately Black Central, South and West Wards, weren't delivered before polls opened. In all, 23 polling places didn't have voting machines by 6 a.m.
Voters were left having to use provisional ballots – a necessary backup, but one that should not have been needed – or were told to return later and try again.
"I went to my Newark polling place at 7:30 on Tuesday morning to cast my ballot, only to find that there were no voting machines available," Haygood recalled, adding that he was told to return later.
Haygood said he wasn't offered a provisional ballot until he "proactively requested" one.
"Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have encountered voting obstacles in Newark," he said. "Running elections is a massive endeavor, but we must do better."
Haygood isn't alone in that sentiment. On Friday, the NJISJ and 19 other local advocacy groups sent a letter to Essex County Superintendent of Elections Patty Spango, requesting an investigation into the recent voting woes in Newark.
The letter, which asks for a response by June 17, requests a "thorough investigation," with findings and remediation plans released to the public.
Advocates pointed out that this week's election was not the first time that there have been voting obstacles in Newark, including in the 2020 general election, when there were also several polling places that weren't open on time.
Henal Patel, director of the Democracy and Justice Program at the NJISJ, said the involved groups aren't making their request lightly.
"We understand how difficult it is to run elections, particularly during a pandemic," Patel said.
But voters in suburban Essex County generally don't encounter the same issues that voters in Newark – the state's largest and a majority Black city – regularly do, Patel said.
"The unfortunate reality is that election issues in Essex County are disproportionately felt by Black and Brown voters," Patel added.
Signatories to Friday's letter include Abbott Leadership Institute, All of Us or None-Northern NJ, Brick City Peace Collective, CAIR New Jersey, Delaware-New Jersey National Lawyers Guild, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, League of Women Voters of New Jersey, Muslim League of Voters, NAACP Newark NJ, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, NJ 11th for Change, NJ Working Families, Office of Violence Prevention, Our Revolution Essex, Project Ready, Returning Citizens Cooperative, Salvation and Social Justice, and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.
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