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Election expenses keep mounting, along with grants
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Election expenses keep mounting, along with grants

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Board of Elections scanner

From left, Atlantic County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Audrey Miles, Republican Chair of the Board Lynn Caterson and scanner operator Joe McIntyre of ES&S run a test ballot through one of two scanning machines that will count vote-by-mail ballots in the general election.

Expenses continue to mount as Atlantic County election officials hire additional staff, rent office space, and buy new equipment and drop boxes, all in an effort to ensure success for New Jersey’s first mostly vote-by-mail general election.

The county administration anticipates election expenses for 2020 to be about $2.2 million, more than double any previous election, because of the added costs of running mostly vote-by-mail elections for a county with about 200,000 registered voters.

So far, it appears state-administered federal grants and private grants will pay for the additional costs, they said. But it’s difficult to determine right now how much if any of the cost will fall on taxpayers.

Election officials do not want a repeat of the mechanical and staffing problems that delayed the processing of about 46,000 vote-by-mail ballots in the July 7 primary election.

“We had to four times make changes in the final numbers,” said Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner John Mooney at a meeting Sept. 1 to determine how much staff to hire and equipment to purchase. “That shouldn’t happen. We have to have credibility.”

The Atlantic County Board of Elections is responsible for processing and counting paper vote-by-mail and provisional ballots, and it expects to handle 120,000 to 140,000 paper ballots in the Nov. 3 general election.

Atlantic County Deputy Clerk Michael Sommers said Tuesday that all Atlantic County ballots are in transit to voters, and many have already been delivered. If you have not gotten your ballot by early next week, contact his office at 609-909-5839.

To help curtail some of the additional expenses for this election, the Board of Elections received a Center for Tech and Civic Life grant of about $150,000. The board plans to use the money to buy a $58,000 scanner for counting ballots, seven new secure drop boxes for $37,500 to supplement the 13 already installed that were provided by the state, and a $16,000 opening/stamping machine, said Republican Clerk of the Board Sue Sandman. The board hopes enough will be left over to purchase a truck with a lift for transporting the contents of the drop boxes.

One of those additional drop boxes will go to Stockton University and one to Atlantic Cape Community College. They should be delivered by Oct. 22, Board of Elections Chair Lynn Caterson said.

The board also found out recently it qualifies for a federal Help America Vote Act physical security grant to pay for round-the-clock security guards and cameras at its new rental space, where about 60 temporary workers will process and count paper vote-by-mail ballots.

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Sandman said the office is doing everything it can to lessen costs to Atlantic County residents.

At the Atlantic County Superintendent of Elections office, additional staff members have been hired and workers are on mandatory overtime.

“We are receiving thousands of online voter registrations since the new system went live Sept. 4,” Superintendent of Elections Maureen Bugdon said of a new state voter registration website. Her office handles voter registration including insuring the voter rolls are accurate.

Bugdon expects to cover the additional costs with her office’s own grant for almost $150,000 from the Center for Tech and Civic Life. She said the office also will receive federal funds through a state-administered program.

The Board of Elections also hired about 60 workers to help process an expected deluge of paper vote-by-mail ballots, at an estimated cost of $200,000 for eight weeks. The cost of the extra labor will be covered by a federal grant, Sandman said.

That grant, which is administered by the state, will also cover $47,000 to rent 12,000 square feet of office space in a Hamilton Township office park through Dec. 15, so those 60 people can work together in one spot. An additional $1,000 will go toward equipping the space with internet.

The federal grant also will pay for personal protective equipment and mini drop boxes required for each polling station to hold vote-by-mail ballots dropped off on Election Day, Sandman said.

Thousands more have been spent on large computer monitors and work stations that will allow one Democrat and one Republican to sit together 6 feet apart. One person of each party must work on processing the ballots together to assure fairness.

In spite of the extra work, officials are excited by the level of interest in the election.

“We are thrilled with the popularity of it,” Bugdon said of the website at state.nj.us/state/elections/voter-registration.shtml. “It is an extraordinary amount of data, and we are working feverishly to get it in in time to get mail-in-ballots out to people.”

People only need to register if they have not registered in the past for other elections. Check registration status at voter.svrs.nj.gov/registration-check.

Bugdon said she is awaiting analytics that will tell her what percentage have been new registrations versus changes to existing registrations, and to get a new total on registered voters in the county. As of Sept. 1, right before the new website went live, the total was just under 200,000 registered voters in Atlantic County.

Contact: 609-272-7219

mpost@pressofac.com

Twitter @MichelleBPost

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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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