Another New Pandemic Reality? Election Gets Shaken Up in NJ

(Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images)

Add voting to the list of routines shaken up by the coronavirus pandemic this year.

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer and the traditional kickoff to campaign season, though many already have been closely watching electoral politics for months. New Jersey is embarking on its first-ever mostly mail-in general election, but Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s plans for balloting face a legal challenge from President Donald Trump’s campaign.

That injects some uncertainty into what voting will look like: Could the federal judge hearing the case side with the Trump campaign and order traditional, in-person voting at machines?

The case has yet to be heard, and that has led Democrats, Republicans and political experts to advise voters to think about how they’ll cast their ballot regardless of the outcome.

“I think it’s really important that every voter has a plan for what they’re gonna do,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the nonpartisan Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.

Murphy ticked off four options: vote by mail; drop your ballot in one of at least 10 drop boxes per county, take your mail-in ballot to a polling place on Election Day, or vote provisionally in person on Nov. 3.

Republican Assembly Leader Jon Bramnick, who said he wants the state to permit traditional in-person voting at a booth, had one word of advice: “Vote.”

He added that people could hold onto their ballots until Election Day if they wanted to wait for the chance at traditional voting — which isn’t guaranteed and is not currently an option. Or they could follow one of the options Murphy outlined.

Every registered voter in New Jersey will receive a ballot in the mail with a prepaid return envelope beginning Oct. 5, according to Secretary of State Tahesha Way, the state’s top elections official.

Once voters get their ballots, there are several options:

— The ballot can be completed and returned in the mail.

— Voters can take their ballot to a drop box in their county. There are to be at least 10 per county, the governor has said.

— Voters can also take their mail-in ballot with them in person on Election Day and turn it in to an official poll worker.

— Voters can go to a polling place and cast a provisional paper ballot, which will be counted only after officials determine the voter’s mail-in ballot hasn’t also been cast.