Governor: New Jersey election will be done mostly by mail

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Saying it won't be a “regular election year” because of the coronavirus outbreak, New Jersey will move to a nearly all-mail election this November following the model the state used in its July primary, Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday.

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Murphy, a Democrat, said during a news conference that he will sign an executive order calling for all registered voters to get a ballot beginning Oct. 5 along with a prepaid return envelope.

Though, he didn't mention Republican President Donald Trump by name, Murphy alluded to the president's comments about starving the U.S. Postal Service of cash to make it harder to process millions of mailed ballots.

The postal service, the governor said, was “being turned into a political football” by people who don't believe in getting people to turn out to vote.

To address concerns over the service's reliability, Murphy said voters will have several options to return their ballots: They can mail them, as long as they're postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, or take them to at least 10 official drop boxes throughout each county, Murphy said.

There will be a new option for the fall, Murphy said: Voters can bring their mail-in ballots in person to a polling place and hand deliver it to a poll worker.

Ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 will be accepted up to a week later, Murphy said.

New Jersey moved its primary from June 2 to July 7 because of the coronavirus outbreak. On Friday, the governor cited the outbreak as the reason for overhauling how the state runs its election.

“We must recognize that this is not a regular election year," he said.

In-person voting won't look like it usually does.

Voters can either hand deliver their ballots, or vote by provisional ballot, which means the vote will be counted only after officials determined a mail-in ballot wasn't already cast.

Murphy indicated there will be fewer polling places open, with each county required to have at least 50% of its polling places open. Each town must have at least one polling place open, the governor said.

“I know all of this may be new for people but I am confident that New Jersey voters, that all of us can do this," Secretary of State Tahesha Way said.

The state Republican Party voiced strong concerns over going to a nearly all-mail election in July.

It petitioned the U.S. attorney in New Jersey to install election monitors over concerns of “disenfranchisement."

On Friday, Republican state Sen. Michael Testa said the change will cause “chaos” in the fall.

"Allowing people to spend five or ten minutes casting their ballots in person to protect the integrity of a presidential election doesn’t seem like such a great risk,” he said in a statement.

Some Democrats have also voiced concerns. Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh has said he wants there to be traditional in-person voting, saying that he was a “purist” and there was a sense of accomplishment after voting in person.

Paterson is at the center of criminal election fraud charges brought by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. The charges stem from the May municipal primary there. Grewal charged a Paterson city councilman, a councilman-elect and two other men with voting fraud.

He cast the charges as a warning ahead of last month's first-ever nearly all-mail election statewide.

Grewal's investigation began when the U.S. Postal Service’s law enforcement arm told the attorney general’s office about hundreds of mail-in ballots located in a mailbox in Paterson, along with more found in nearby Haledon.

Three of the four defendants' attorneys said last month that their clients disputed the charges.

Murphy said the Paterson example showed that law enforcement was closely watching for any issues.

“If you screw around with voting you’re going to be caught,” he said.

New Jersey previously had no-excuse mail-in voting.

Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah — relied on mail-in ballots even before the coronavirus pandemic raised concerns about voting in person this coming November.

In June, California's Democratic governor signed legislation requiring county officials to mail ballots to voters ahead of the presidential election in response to the coronavirus outbreak.