As chair of the Atlantic County Board of Elections, I wrote, speaking only for myself, to Gov. Phil Murphy and Secretary of State Tahesha Way about the following Primary Election Issues which can and should be addressed and resolved so they are not repeated in the General Election. I firmly believe that voters should be able to vote by mail if they so choose, and if they do so, they should be confident that their votes will be delivered and counted in a timely and accurate fashion. SIGNATURE REVIEW — the only means of voter verification in NJ
People registering to vote through the Motor Vehicle Commission are instructed to sign their signature with their finger on a pad. The resulting mark looks nothing like their true signature, yet this is what the Board of Elections must use to compare to the voter’s signature on the mail-in ballot (MIB). Needless to say, these signatures do not match, and the voters must go through the added process of receiving and returning a “Cure” letter in order for their vote to count. In Atlantic County only 60% of voters who received Cure letters returned them.
Active registered voters often have several signatures in the Statewide Voter Registration System, or SVRS, and the board must see them all. To print each signature for the board to review and compare to the MIB signature takes 13 clicks of the computer mouse. A computer program must be developed allowing board workers to print all signatures quickly and easily, giving the board every possibility to accept a MIB.
DELIVERY OF ELECTION MATERIALS BY THE POST OFFICE
Completed and mailed MIBs must now go from the local post office to a central location, and then back to the Board of Elections post office — adding days and possible delivery issues. MIBs are readily recognizable and the U.S. Postal Service must change its procedure to allow MIBs mailed at a local post office to be sent directly to the Board of Elections post office.
Voters have reported they never received their mailed MIBs, even with a confirmed mailing address. One Egg Harbor Township voter was told by the County Clerk’s Office that her initially mailed MIB was sent to Lancaster, Pa.
MIBs have two bar codes — one indicating the Board of Elections and the other for the voter. If the wrong bar code is scanned, the completed and mailed ballot is mailed back to the voter. The correct bar code must be read so that the MIB is sent to the Board of Elections.
When a MIB is postage-prepaid, the taxpayers of the county are paying the postage. When a ballot is misdelivered back to the voter and then re-mailed and delivered to the board, the taxpayer pays for both mailings.
All MIBs received by the post office on Election Day must be postmarked Election Day. This was not the case in the Atlantic County Primary Election
A list of all voters with contact details is kept in the SVRS. The system has been “refusing” to record needed information that is being entered — such as apartment numbers, corrected party affiliation and corrected name spelling, among other items. This has led to disenfranchising voters.
All county clerks, county superintendents of election and boards of elections use the SVRS at the same time to process mailed ballots and other information. During the Primary Election process, the SVRS repeatedly crashed as too many people were trying to use it. The SVRS must be able to handle hundreds of people using it at the same time.
All people who create deadlines in the election process should realize the practical impact of the deadline being set. This is easily done by contacting members of the N.J. State Association of Election Officials who fully understand the election process before declaring a deadline.
When there is an anticipation of a great number of MIBs, the time of their being mailed out before an election should be lengthened from the 45 days given in the statute — not shortened as was done for the Primary Election. Sixty (60) days ahead for the General Election would have the MIBs mailed the first week in September.
Given the large number of MIBs and provisional ballots being processed and requiring a Cure letter for signature questions and unsigned ballots, the deadline of July 23 in this Primary Election was very unfair to the voter and much too short a turn-around time. Cure letters going to military personnel overseas likely were not even received before the deadline for their return.
Evelynn S. Caterson, of Absecon, chairs the Atlantic County Board of Elections.