How Long Did it Take to Send a Ballot in the Mail? We’re Still Waiting

by John Mooney
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Editor’s Note: This article is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. The article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy.

Click here for the original article, written by John Mooney.

Just down the street from a Newark elementary school, the state-sanctioned ballot went into the mailbox at the corner of Newton Street and South Orange Avenue last Wednesday, about noon.

The label on the blue mailbox — one of the U.S. Postal Service’s newer, more secure ones — said the mail is picked up about 1 p.m. every weekday. Six days out from Election Day and less than a mile from the county’s election office, it seemed plenty of time.

Yet that is the last the sender saw or heard of his ballot, the start of the story of a single vote cast in this historic election and a quest to see when — and even if — it will be counted.

A seemingly simple test

NJ Spotlight News tried a little experiment. A week out from the election in which mail-in ballots would be the preponderance of votes cast in New Jersey, a half-dozen people from around the state who had yet to vote were enlisted to track their ballots from mailing or drop box to being marked as “received” on the state’s ballot tracker.

Hardly scientific, by any means. It was just an attempt to see if random ballots cast from different places in the state at about the same time would answer the question that has haunted this election: Does every vote get counted?

The answer is a resounding “maybe.” Two ballots dropped in a Somerset County drop box in Montgomery Township were both marked “received” by the weekend, although one was oddly a day later than the other. A ballot dropped in a Hudson County drop-box in Jersey City also landed safely, as did one mailed from Montclair.

But a perfect score proved elusive. The ballot mailed from Newton Street in Newark had still not found a home, at least not officially, by the close of voting on Election Day.

Clock keeps counting down

There was still time, as the law only called for ballots to be postmarked by Nov. 3 to be counted. But while this is just one ballot, it also speaks to the vagaries of a vote-counting system that has never been tested under these conditions, with nearly 4 million ballots confirmed to have been mailed or deposited early and the rest coming Tuesday or Wednesday or maybe even next week.

In a search for answers, NJ Spotlight News approached Essex County’s top election official to ask him about the Newark ballot that had gone astray, and he maintained that all votes would be counted. But he also acknowledged that even ballots mailed or dropped at the same will take different amounts of time to be delivered.

“Oh, it’s much quicker by drop box,” said Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin when approached at Newark’s impromptu polling place inside the Prudential Arena.

“Drop boxes are picked up on a daily basis, while what we thought was first-class mail or two-day mail is now taking a lot longer,” he said. “So it has extended the time [to be registered]. That’s why the secure boxes were so essential, to cut out that extra step. It goes directly from the voter to the county election offices to be counted.”

More troubling perhaps, Durkin also acknowledged that the later someone registers to vote, the less time they’ll have in case a ballot is rejected due to a mismatched or missing signature and the voter seeks an appeal.

“We still have time,” he said. “But another reason why people should have voted by mail earlier.”

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