If you’re thinking that you can vote as you normally would in this election, the year 2020 has another nasty surprise for you: You can’t.
Your normal polling place may be closed due to COVID-19; the poll locations in our state will be reduced by about half. And even if it is open, only people with disabilities will be voting by machine this year, due to the pandemic.
And the pandemic is only part of the problem. President Trump is trying to stifle the vote by throwing up one barrier after another, and he’s getting vigorous help from Republicans across the country -- including New Jersey Republicans, who joined a lawsuit trying to limit the vote by stopping the mailing out of ballots to all who are registered.
Please, push back against these assaults on your voting rights by making a careful plan to make sure your vote is counted. Here are our suggestions.
First, check online to make sure you’re registered. Do it now: October 13th is the deadline.
Second, vote as soon as possible -- and track your vote online. The two biggest reasons why mail-in ballots were rejected in the recent primary election were that they arrived too late to be counted, due to COVID delays, or the signature was missing. So, act soon.
Third, use drop boxes if you can, rather than a regular postal box. Given that the Postmaster is a friend of President Trump, and behind recent mischief at the post office, why not steer clear of it?
These secure boxes are controlled by the state. “As you get closer to the election, no question you should be putting It in the drop boxes,” says Larry Norden, a vote-by-mail expert at the Brennan Center.
“It is the most direct way to get the ballot from your hands into the hands of those who will be counting the votes,” adds Sen. Troy Singleton, who pushed to ensure every county has at least 10 ballot drop boxes.
Granted, if the nearest one is still a bus ride away, some voters will have to rely on the Post Office. Historically, the USPS has played fair, but it would be wise to hand-deliver your ballot to the post office so it’s postmarked right in front of you.
New Jersey officials will count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received up to seven days after. But the USPS didn’t postmark some ballots in time for the primary, one of the disputes in New Jersey.
It also made changes that came under scrutiny; like not allowing overtime to ensure mail got delivered in the pandemic, and forcing carriers to wait extra time to pick it up even if they knew it was sitting there, waiting.
These dubious orders, combined with staffing troubles and heavy demand, have taken their toll, some workers say. “People are burned out,” one New Jersey letter carrier told the Washington Post, adding: “We’ve never had a summer like this. I tell my customers, ‘Call your congressman, because I’m being told not to deliver your mail.’”
Some errors are accidental, notes Tammy Patrick of the Democracy Fund, an election official who’s served as a liaison to the postal service. Mail no longer goes just across town, it goes to a processing plant where the postmark is applied.
Sometimes two pieces of mail go through the machine together: The one in front gets the postmark, the one in back does not. “You never want your vote to count or not count based on chance,” she says.
Since the provisional ballots cast in-person on Election Day are counted after all other ballots, they should be a last resort. Vote early, use a drop box, and track your ballot.
And when the holograms hit the screens that night, your vote will be among the first to be reported.