Every active New Jersey voter will receive a mail ballot this fall, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Friday, unveiling plans designed to safeguard public health amid growing concerns about funding for the U.S. Postal Service and the pandemic’s impact on the November election.
New Jersey will count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received within seven days after, he said, adding that his administration expects the Postal Service to be able to handle any increase in mail ballots.
“Results here and across the nation show that making it easier to vote does not favor any one political party, but it does favor democracy,” Murphy said at his regular coronavirus briefing. “No voter should fear for the sanctity of their ballot.… This mattered before the pandemic, and it has even greater urgency now.”
The July primary, in which New Jersey voters overwhelmingly used mail ballots, had the second-highest primary turnout in the state’s history, officials said.
Pennsylvania’s top election official expressed “great confidence” in the commonwealth’s vote-by-mail system on Friday, saying officials are working “day and night to make sure that every eligible Pennsylvanian’s vote is counted in November.” She encouraged voters to apply for mail ballots early and to return them by mail or at their county election offices as soon as possible.
That followed revelations this week that the Postal Service had warned Pennsylvania and other states it may not be able to deliver all mail ballots in time to be processed and counted. President Donald Trump on Thursday made baseless claims that mail voting leads to fraud and said he opposes giving the Postal Service more funding because it would allow widespread mail ballots.
Murphy is expected to use an executive order to extend the window for counting mail ballots in New Jersey. The Democratic governor used an executive order to similarly extend the deadlines in this summer’s primary election.
Ballots will go out to millions of voters in early October. They can mail their completed ballots or drop them in one of 10 ballot boxes to be set up in each county. (Officials say all qualified voters should contact the state if they have not received ballots by mid-October.)
Ballots will not be sent to voters deemed “inactive” by elections officials, meaning a sample ballot sent to them at their registered address bounced back as undeliverable.
Voters who choose to will still be allowed to cast in-person votes on Election Day — each municipality will have one polling site open — or hand-deliver them to poll workers, who will be given personal protective equipment.
“The Postal Service and its necessary funding is being turned into a political football by those who simply don’t believe in expanding ballot access,” Murphy said. “We will not let these political issues disenfranchise voters, or suppress anyone’s right to vote.”
Voting rights was just one of the areas in which states were scrambling to counter the virus. In some, officials were also still grappling with the latest relief plan set forth in directives from Trump last weekend, which requires states to pitch in funding for weekly unemployment benefits. Murphy and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf have both said their states cannot afford it.
On Friday, Wolf said the plan’s eligibility requirements would exclude nearly 30,000 Pennsylvanians from additional unemployment benefits. In a letter the Democrat sent Thursday to Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, he urged lawmakers to extend the expired aid package that provided eligible Americans with $600 a week for the first several months of the pandemic.
“The president’s convoluted and temporary idea will leave families waiting weeks just to get less,” Wolf said in a statement. “The extra $600 per week is vital for families to get by and the federal government should extend it. The additional unemployment benefit was helping many working families to pay their bills and put food on the table.”
The president’s plan would provide some unemployed Americans with an extra $400 a week, $100 of which would come from the states and $300 of which would come from funds earmarked for storm disaster relief, Wolf said.
Trump has said his plan would help the situation and on Friday accused Democrats of holding up funding for various forms of relief.
Wolf’s letter came as governors across the country have criticized Trump’s plan, saying their states could not afford to cover the cost. On Monday, Murphy said the plan was not realistic for “broke” states.
New Jersey on Friday reported 585 new coronavirus cases, and the rate of person-to-person transmission remains below one. Murphy noted the state’s numbers “generally look very good,” but said more than 3,200 positive test results were recorded over the last week, meaning the virus is still circulating.
In Pennsylvania, the percentage of positive virus tests decreased for the second straight week, Wolf said. “This reflects the willingness of Pennsylvanians to take steps to protect themselves and their neighbors,” the governor wrote on Twitter.
Pennsylvania reported 829 new cases and 36 deaths on Friday. The state averaged more than 800 new cases a day over the previous week, a slight uptick according to an Inquirer analysis.
Philadelphia reported 147 new cases and six deaths Friday; health officials were watching the numbers to determine whether cases are increasing anew, they said Thursday.
Just days before its fall semester begins, Temple University became the latest college to unveil its coronavirus testing procedures and requirements for on-campus students.
Students have been asked to quarantine for two weeks before arriving on campus, and all students moving into campus housing will be tested after arrival. And all faculty, staff, and students who have traveled to campus from a “hot spot” state will be tested, the university said Thursday evening.
Staff writers Laura McCrystal, Jonathan Tamari, Jonathan Lai, Ellie Rushing, Robert Moran, and Rob Tornoe contributed to this article.