Voting Rights Advocates Provide Plan for New Jersey Elections
Groups’ Recommendations Detail Steps to be Taken to Avoid Disenfranchisement
TRENTON – A diverse coalition of 35 statewide, local, and national organizations sent recommendations to Governor Murphy, Secretary of State Way, and legislative leadership laying out steps that must be taken to ensure that New Jersey’s upcoming elections are successful and robust. The groups stressed the need to protect health and voting rights by expanding, not restricting, access to the ballot.
Governor Murphy issued an Executive Order earlier this month postponing the primary election until July 7, 2020 but has yet to announce any logistical decisions regarding the election.
“It is paramount to prioritize health and safety, while also ensuring a thriving participatory democracy. Voting must be categorized as an ‘essential service’ and voters must have multiple options for accessing the ballot during this crisis. We are most concerned with communities, such as communities of color and the disability community, that historically face obstacles to the ballot,” said the groups in the letter.
The letter laid out specific recommendations to address voter registration, vote-by-mail, polling place protections, voter education, and voter protection. The groups’ recommendations take a 360 degree approach to ensuring every eligible voter has multiple options to participate in New Jersey’s elections.
The groups added, “We understand that there are no easy decisions. Every decision made during these trying times comes with repercussions … But it is precisely during times of crisis that we most need to lean on our collective resolve to ensure a healthy and reliable democracy … Our citizens need to have faith that their voices are heard, now more than ever, and we must do everything in our power to protect the sacred institution of voting.”
Excerpted recommendations are below. A full copy of the letter can be found at here.
- Dedication resources to launching online voter registration.
- Relax voter registration deadlines and permit Election Day voter registration.
- Update the “My Voter Information” section of the NJ Division of Elections to provide more thorough voter registration information for individuals.
- Encourage vote-by-mail, but also maintain in-person voting opportunities to ensure all voters have equal opportunities to cast a ballot, including those for whom vote-by-mail is not an equitable solution.
- Adequately sanitize polling places and follow CDC guidelines and provide PPE to keep poll workers safe.
- Determine polling place location changes as early as possible, and ensure locations are ADA compliant and located in areas that are easily accessible to historically marginalized communities; communicate changes clearly; maintain current number of polling locations.
- Prepare polling places for the casting of a large number of provisional ballots.
- Expand in-person early voting to help reduce the chances of long lines or crowds during Election Day.
- Mail ballots to all voters with clear instructions.
- Include pre-paid postage on VBM return envelopes.
- Send ballot and accompanying materials in all relevant languages, as required by the Voting Rights Act.
- Allow for voters to request and return VBM ballots in-person.
- Allow for multiple ballot drop-off options, including secure ballot drop-off locations and drop boxes. Like polling places, these locations should be determined as early as possible, be ADA compliant, and be located in areas that are easily accessible to historically marginalized populations. Drop box locations should be listed on the New Jersey Division of Elections website.
- To account for delays in mail service, the 48-hour time period for vote-by-mail ballots to be received after the close of polls should be relaxed.
- Tracking procedures for voters to track their mail-in ballots – as well as find out if it was counted, and if it was rejected, why it was rejected – should be clearly communicated and easily accessible.
- Provide easy online access for voters to determine their vote-by-mail registration status.
- Ensure that Election Day judges are available to determine voter eligibility.
- Voters must receive notice if their vote-by-mail ballots have been rejected because of a signature match, missing signature, or other technical issue. Voters must be afforded an opportunity to correct issues or otherwise “cure” their ballot to ensure their ballot is counted. The voter must also be given ways to correct vote-by-mail issues that either do not involve or that limit in-person interaction.