TRENTON — “Bring it on,” Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday of a lawsuit filed by the reelection campaign of President Donald J. Trump, challenging Murphy’s right to unilaterally order that the Nov. 3 general election will be mostly vote-by-mail.
“Our democracy is stronger and fairer when all voters have the right to not just cast a ballot, but to cast that ballot in confidence,” Murphy said at his midday news conference. “The president’s campaign is putting itself on record as wanting to delegitimize our election instead of working with us to see that voters’ rights are upheld alongside public health.”
State Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, who is an attorney and part of the legal team working with the GOP on the lawsuit, said Wednesday that Murphy “made a hasty move without putting any of the necessary safeguards in place,” and Murphy’s actions “undermine the public confidence in the integrity of the elections.”
The lawsuit argues that the “U.S. Constitution entrusts state legislatures to set the time, place and manner of congressional elections and to determine how the state chooses electors for the presidency.”
It says Murphy usurped the Legislature’s authority by “purporting to rewrite the election code for the November 2020 election,” calling it a “brazen power grab.”
The suit was recently filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey by the Trump campaign, joined by the Republican National Committee and the New Jersey Republican State Committee. Similar suits have been filed in other states, with critics claiming the vote-by-mail effort will lead to more voter fraud.
Murphy has said relying on vote-by-mail and paper provisional votes for those who show up at the polls Election Day is a safer option than using machine voting, to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus.
Republicans, however, have argued that voting is at least as essential an activity as shopping, and that those who prefer to vote by machine should have the option. They also cite the difficulty of securing the large number of paper ballots expected to be cast.
“Since the disastrous all vote-by-mail primary in July, I have been asking the State Republican Committee to challenge Governor Murphy’s executive order declaring this year’s election to be conducted primarily by mail and mail alone,” said Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis. “Not only does such a change obviously require legislative action, but every citizen in this state should have the right to vote at a machine if they choose to do so.”
Davis said an all vote-by-mail election only benefits Democrats “who engage in ballot harvesting with political operatives such as Craig Callaway and others.”
Testa was also the attorney for the state GOP when it sued the Murphy administration, challenging Murphy’s right to borrow almost $10 billion without approval from voters. Murphy is borrowing the money as an emergency measure in response to COVID-19’s affect on state revenues.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that Murphy does have the right to borrow the funds.
Murphy, a Democrat, has said the state’s 6.2 million registered voters will get a ballot beginning Oct. 5, along with a prepaid return envelope. Ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 will be accepted up to a week later.
Voters can also go to the polls on Election Day and fill out a provisional paper ballot instead, and those who have handicaps that prevent them from filling out a paper ballot will be permitted to vote by machine.
Voters who fill out vote-by-mail ballots have the option of returning them postage-paid through the U.S. Postal Service, by dropping them in numerous secure drop boxes that will be distributed throughout each county, by hand delivering them to the Atlantic County Board of Elections in the Old Court House in Mays Landing, or by giving them to a poll worker on Election Day at their polling place.
The plan generally follows the one used in the July 7 primary election, the first election New Jersey overwhelmingly depended on vote-by-mail.
Atlantic County has estimated it will have to process about 120,000 to 140,000 paper ballots, up from about 48,000 in the primary election. It took about a month for all ballots to be counted in that election, and there were problems with electronic scanning machines that count the votes, with the Postal Service returning ballots to voters rather than delivering them to election officials, and other problems.
“The efforts to expand vote-by-mail have been going on for years,” Murphy said, citing the second highest primary election turnout in state history on July 7, “despite the ongoing public health emergency and a noncompetitive race for president in our party.”
Murphy said the Trump campaign will not distract the state from moving forward with its plans for November.
“As the president and his team try to delegitimize our election, we will defend our rights vigorously and we will not back down,” Murphy said. “So as they say, bring it on.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.