For anyone who’s had nightmares about what a vote by mail system would produce on its worst day, we give you Paterson, where several law enforcement agencies are investigating bundles of vote by mail ballots evidently harvested and dumped in a mailbox in Haledon.
“Finding ballots, 300 plus ballots, in a neighboring municipality that has nothing to do with a Paterson election, that is a cause for concern,” said Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh.
Just a few days later, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that a hybrid July primary would rely heavily on vote by mail ballots, with each county making half of its polling places open on Election Day to collect ballots and allow those with physical challenges to use voting machines.
“Our goals are two-fold, to maximize our democracy while minimizing the risk of illness. We want everyone to participate in a safe and fully democratic process,” Murphy said Friday during his daily press briefing.
The Passaic County clerk’s office, which is responsible for Paterson’s election, didn’t want to talk about what happened last week. But based on what they saw in their local elections, some other county clerks expressed reasons for pause. Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin said there were some problems throughout Essex last week with addresses, but nothing on the scale of Paterson.
“We don’t know the full scope of this. Obviously, at the very least it looks as though people were collecting ballots, which is intimidation in itself if you’re collecting someone’s ballot to bring it in,” Durkin said. “That’s a privacy and intimidation factor that we need to eliminate.”
Durkin also expressed concerns about the vote by mail signature match requirements – matching the signature you used when you registered to your signature today – which is already the subject of one lawsuit.
There’s still a lot county clerks don’t know about how the hybrid primary is supposed to operate.
“The election officials have been waiting a very long time for an answer and some direction as to how this election was going to play out,” Monmouth County Clerk Christine Hanlon said. “Just to give you an example, my office had planned to send out two weeks from now, planned to send out about 43,000 ballots. I now have to send out almost 300,000 ballots.”
“You know, when you’re going to be sending out ballots you take months to stuff the envelopes and get everything ready. Now all of the envelopes may need to be changed because the deadlines have changed and the process has changed,” she continued.
Not to mention the 200,000 vote by mail applications for the unregistered and unaffiliated. It’s a time consuming and expensive proposition for local governments already starved for cash. To top it all off, the public education effort that’s going to be needed. A recent poll found that less than 10% of voters even know that there’s a primary election scheduled for July 7. For the presidential primary, that might not be a big issue, but for local races around the state, there’s a lot riding, and the fear is that a perfect storm of an imperfect election could be brewing.