Amidst an unprecedented pandemic, Americans are also faced with navigating and securing the right to vote in one of the most consequential elections in modern history. Because of Covid-19, roughly three-quarters of Americans will be able to vote by mail on November 3, the most ever.
In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy issued executive orders in August making the election largely a vote-by-mail election. So, how can NJ residents vote, and how can they ensure their vote is counted? In short: be prepared, and if you are voting by mail, do so as early as possible.
Important dates (courtesy of Democracy Works):
- Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 2020.
- The deadline to register online to vote is Tuesday, October 13, 2020.
- The deadline for registering by mail to vote is (postmarked by) Tuesday, October 13, 2020.
- The deadline to register in person to vote is Tuesday, October 13, 2020.
- The early voting period runs from Saturday, September 19, 2020 to Monday, November 2, 2020, but dates and hours may vary based on where you live.
How do I know if I am registered?
All voters should confirm they are registered to vote. If they are not, online voter registration is now available for Essex County residents. You will need your drivers license or the last four digits of your social security number. The registration deadline to vote in the Nov. 3 election is October 13.
How can I vote in New Jersey this year?
NJ voters can choose from one of 5 options:
- Mail in their ballot through the USPS
- Return their ballot through a secure dropbox
- Bring the ballot to your local Board of Elections office (For Essex County: 465 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Newark, NJ, 973-621-5071). This can be done before or on Election Day. Hours: M-F 8:30am – 4:30pm; Saturday
9:00am – 3:00pm
- Hand their ballot directly to a poll worker at a polling place on Election Day (Find your polling place here)
- Vote in-person with a provisional paper ballot; vision-impaired voters may vote using an ADA compliant voting machine. In-person provisional ballots will be counted after the mail-in ballots are counted.
How do I get my mail-in ballot?
ALL registered voters in the state will automatically receive ballots in the mail. Voters do NOT need to request a ballot. In Essex County, vote-by-mail ballots were mailed to registered voters beginning September 28, according to Essex County Clerk Christopher Durkin.
However, college students or anyone living at a different address than where they are currently registered to vote should request a ballot to be mailed to their current address. (See more on that below.)
If voters have not received their ballots by the second week in October, they should call their county clerk’s office.. (The Essex County Clerk’s number is (973) 621-4921.)
All ballots being returned through the US Postal Service must carry a postmark by November 3rd, and be received by the County Clerk no later than 8 p.m. Tuesday, November 10th. Ballots which lack postmarks due to postal error received by 8 p.m. Thursday, November 5th will also be considered valid.
To avoid delays, election advocates urge voters to return their mail-in ballots as early as possible.
Who is on the ballot?
In addition to choosing the next president, New Jersey residents will be casting their votes for US Senator, House of Representatives, Freeholders and more. Locally, South Orange and Maplewood residents are also casting ballots for Board of Education candidates, and Maplewood residents are voting for two Township Committee members.
See sample ballots for Essex County voters here: http://www.essexclerk.com/_Content/pdf/November-3rd-2020-General-Election-Sample-Ballots.pdf
Where can I find my closest ballot drop box?
Every municipality in Essex County will have a ballot drop box and ballots will be collected daily by two representatives from the Essex County Board of Elections. Boxes are secured within a sealed metal box and monitored by a security camera 24 hours a day.
Essex County voters can drop their ballots in any of the county’s drop boxes (see list below).
In Maplewood: Police & Courts Building, 1618 Springfield Avenue.
In South Orange: the Gazebo on Sloan Street.
How do college students or others currently living out of state vote in NJ this year?
- Make sure you are registered (see above).
- Know where your mail-in ballot will be sent. If you are living somewhere other than your usual election “mail to” address, fill out a vote by mail application and update your address for your local Board of Elections, Durkin said.
- Return the application to your county clerk; it must be received seven days prior to the election — or the voter may apply in person to the county clerk until 3:00 pm on the day before the election.
Rutgers University has useful information for all college students and others on voting by mail.
How should voters ensure their ballot is not disqualified?
Remember the following: Sign, Seal, and Return, according to Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin.
Voters should read the ballot directions carefully and double check that they are filling it out correctly and following the instructions on how to return it.
See this video for instructions on how to vote:
“Every individual county has its own design on the ballot,” a USPS employee involved with election mail in NJ told Village Green. “[The voter] has to follow all directions to detail. If they miss one thing, it could invalidate the whole ballot. It is critical to be sure the voter is reading the ballot specifically and thoroughly.”
Do not detach the certificate from the ballot before putting it into the envelope. The ballot includes a return postage paid envelope, so you do not need to provide postage. Your signatures must match on your ballot and your registration. However, this year because of the amended Ballot Cure Act in NJ, if there is an issue with your ballot you will be sent a “Cure Form” that may be verified and returned up to 48 hours prior to the deadline for certifying the final vote tally.
How can I track my mail-in ballot to make sure it has been received?
Essex County voters can track their ballots here.
Voters can also call their County Election Officials to confirm their ballot has been received.
Can I still vote in person?
Maplewood Township Clerk Liz Fritzen explained that polling locations are for visually impaired voters (they will be the only voters able to vote on machines) and for people wishing to cast a provisional paper ballot. Polls will be open 6AM-8PM.
There are four approved polling places in Maplewood:
- Maplewood Community Center, 120 Burnett Ave.
- Maplewood Town Hall, 574 Valley Street
- The Woodland, 60 Woodland Road
- Clinton School, 27 Berkshire Road
There are four approved polling places in South Orange:
- Seton Hall University, 400 South Orange Avenue
- South Orange Middle School, 70 North Ridgewood Rd.
- Marshall School, 262 Grove Road
- First Presbyterian & Trinity Church, 111 Irvington Avenue
All NJ public schools will be closed on Election Day, to facilitate in-person voting.
Is the USPS equipped to handle the number of main-in ballots?
“The United States Postal Service has ample capacity nationwide to process millions of outgoing and return mail.” the USPS employee said. “The postal service has high speed sorting equipment that will process all outgoing mail, from any and all counties who present the mail either at the local level or the Business Mail Entry Unit. USPS will also return voter ballots efficiently back to the states and counties.”