By Michael Hill
Federal ballots from U.S. citizens and military members overseas, stacking up at the Essex County Board of Elections.
The clerk of the board says the ballots are still coming in by email and their volume is evidence outreach has been very successful this year.
Clerk of the Essex County Board of Elections Linda Von Nessi says, “I think it’s a beautiful thing when Americans who live in other countries take such pride in our process to have their voices counted.”
“What we’re seeing now and hearing anecdotally is that this is through the roof. All of them are projecting that this will be finally the election we’ve been waiting for. The election where the highest amount of registered voters will turn out,” said Kamanzi Kalisa, director of the Council of State Governments Overseas Voting Initiative.
Service members and others apply for ballots online and states must mail them starting 45 days from the election. States then accept emailed ballots. But, military ballots go by regular mail with the help of the military’s version of the postal service. So what a challenge it is to facilitate voting for service members on submarines at sea or troops in combat.
“You just hit upon a couple of the hardest nuts to crack, if you will. That local commander must decide whether that truck or helicopter is going to go up that road on that particular day given local intelligence,” said Federal Voting Assistance Program Communications Director Scott Wiedmann.
Ballots received and sent from thousands of miles overseas. But right here at home, 22-year-old Cristina Rodriguez of Perth Amboy — eager to vote for the first time — says she applied for a voter ballot by mail a month ago and never got it or an explanation from the Middlesex County Clerk’s Office.
“I called and it took a while for me to speak to someone. It was just a robot — I guess it’s what it’s called. Once I did get to someone they were kind of dodgy they didn’t know how to answer my questions really,” she said.
She became so concerned that she wasn’t going to be able to participate in this election, Rodriguez came here to the Middlesex County Clerk’s Office to get a ballot, vote and mail it.
What did she think of having to do it?
“It went against the whole reason I applied for vote by mail. It took up my time, I had to miss time from work and go over there and it was my first time going to New Brunswick. I didn’t need to do that,” she said.
One local campaign here says 200-plus voters have had issues getting ballots by mail. Middlesex County Clerk Elaine Flynn tells NJTV News, “If you provide us with the names and contact information for anyone who did not receive their mail-in ballot, we will address it directly with the individuals, as we have been doing when they call my office.”
Citing state law, the clerk turned down a request to extend deadlines to accept mail-in ballots as critics fear the issue could violate the voting rights of some and influence the outcome of a local election.