Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Michael Suleiman called for a commissioner on the Atlantic County Board of Elections to resign after she posted comments on social media Suleiman called “fear-mongering” against vote-by-mail elections.

“We stand in line at Target, WalMart, Lowes, etc. We can stand in line in November,” Republican Commissioner Mary Jo Couts wrote in a Facebook post. “Say no to mail-in voting. Make this go viral.”

The Atlantic County Board of Elections in the July 7 primary handled about 48,000 vote-by-mail ballots, many times more than the board had ever handled. They were not fully counted until late July, and there were multiple problems with poor information from the Statewide Voter Registration System, with the Postal Service returning some ballots to voters rather than to the board to be counted and with the Postal Service incorrectly postmarking some ballots.

“It’s not her place to tell a voter how to cast her ballot,” Suleiman said Monday. “Her job is to count votes and rule on the validity of signatures. It is completely inappropriate to fear-monger on vote-by-mail.”

The controversy is happening at a time when, nationally, Republicans have been criticizing the vote-by-mail process as open to fraud and fraught with problems. President Donald J. Trump even floated the idea of postponing the election rather than go ahead with a mostly vote-by-mail election, sparking criticism from Democrats.

Suleiman said voters can no longer have confidence Couts will perform her duties “’fairly, justly and impartially,’ as her oath of office requires.”

Couts could not be reached for comment.

Board of Elections Chairperson Lynn Caterson, a Republican, said she is focused on fixing problems in the vote-by-mail system. The board is responsible for receiving, processing and counting vote-by-mail ballots and for counting paper provisional ballots. It also hires and trains poll workers.

Gov. Phil Murphy ordered that the June 2 primary be moved to July 7 and be conducted as a mostly vote-by-mail election. Limited numbers of polling stations were open, where registered voters could show up to fill out a paper provisional vote, but machines were limited to use by those whose disabilities prevented them from filling out a paper ballot — such as those with vision loss.

It was the first such election in New Jersey history, and while voter participation did increase, it took several weeks for all ballots to be counted. In some parts of the state there are still uncounted ballots, officials have said.

Last week, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Hirsh Singh, of Linwood, filed legal papers to force a statewide recount of his race. He is about 8,000 votes behind Rik Mehta, of Morris County, but said many votes are either uncounted or have been thrown out, and he wants all votes to be looked at again.

On Tuesday, Atlantic County freeholders are expected to consider a resolution opposing exclusive use of vote-by-mail ballots for the November presidential election.

“It isn’t a political issue. It’s a clean-up issue,” Caterson said.

But Suleiman said the problems the county and state had with vote-by-mail are the fault of disorganization or a bad system, not with vote-by-mail itself.

“It took too long to count ballots, but that’s not an inherent problem with vote-by-mail, it’s a problem with the Board of Elections being slow,” Suleiman said. “Gloucester County had the same number of ballots and 80% were counted on election night.”

Contact: 609-272-7219

mpost@pressofac.com

Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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