Most New Jersey voters won’t be casting their ballots from inside a voting booth this election season.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced in August that most registered voters would automatically receive ballots in the mail, a measure meant to protect public health during the coronavirus pandemic and also improve voting access.
Murphy’s plan, unveiled amid growing concerns about U.S. Postal Service delays, leaves New Jersey voters with more ways to cast a ballot than ever: by mail, by drop box, by physically handing a ballot to a poll worker, or the traditional in-person way.
“We want voters to trust that New Jersey’s elections are going to function properly,” said Alicia D’Alessandro, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Elections.
Noting the proliferation of election misinformation and disinformation in 2020, D’Alessandro added: “Whether the information that is out there is slightly wrong or totally wrong, if the end result is that a voter is somehow discouraged or prevented from joining this election, that’s voter suppression.”
Even before the pandemic led to a surge of mail ballot applications, more than 600,000 New Jersey voters were already signed up to vote by mail in recent election years, D’Alessandro said — about a tenth of the voting-age population. What’s different now is the expected volume of mailed ballots. Ballot drop boxes are new in New Jersey, but they were modeled after those already used in several other states.
“It’s not new to the people who run the elections,” D’Alessandro said. "It’s just being turned up a notch.”
Here’s what you need to know.
How do I register to vote?
You can register online at the state Division of Elections website, voter.svrs.nj.gov/register. To register by mail, print and send a paper application. You can download the form or call your local county elections office to request one. You can also fill one out in person at your local municipal or county clerk’s office. You must have a valid driver’s license or state-issued identification card, or a Social Security number.
What’s the voter registration deadline?
Tuesday, Oct. 13, is the last day to register for the November general election. Mailed applications to register must be postmarked by that date.
How can I apply to vote by mail?
All active, registered New Jersey voters should automatically receive mail ballots.
When will I receive my mail ballot? What if I don’t?
Counties are mailing ballots now to avoid overburdening the Postal Service in the weeks ahead. Counties will mail most ballots by Monday, but people who don’t register to vote until closer to the registration deadline might not receive theirs until later.
Once you are registered to vote, you can track the status of your ballot online. If you registered before the deadline and have not received your ballot by mid-October, D’Alessandro recommended checking online or calling your county elections office.
“As long as you have your ballot by Nov. 3, you can walk it to a [drop box] or the polls,” she said.
Can I vote in person even if I receive a mail ballot? Or if I never got one?
Yes, you can fill out a provisional ballot at a polling location. In that case, your vote will be counted after mail ballots are tallied and election officials determine that you haven’t already voted by mail.
“People should not vote twice to test the system,” D’Alessandro said. “Because you will get caught, and if you’re found to have done it intentionally, that’s a felony.”
The earliest provisional ballots would be counted is Nov. 11, D’Alessandro said. "An important thing for people to realize is that provisional ballots are real ballots, and they do count, " she said.
Where can I return my mail ballot?
New Jersey voters have three options: Mail your ballot on or before Election Day, put it in a ballot drop box, or go to a polling location on Election Day and hand-deliver it to a worker there.
What’s the deadline for returning my ballot by mail?
New Jersey officials will count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received up to seven days after.
When will my ballot be counted?
Murphy signed an order allowing election officials to start counting ballots up to 10 days before Election Day this year, so if you mail it early, it may be opened before Nov. 3. The order mandates that all vote counts be kept confidential, but some state lawmakers have expressed concern that such information could still be disclosed before Election Day.
D’Alessandro said anyone who disclosed voting results would face felony charges. Anyone who did would also be quickly identified, she said, given the small number of people who have access to that information.
“There’s a lot of reasons I feel confident in saying we’ve got a system that is secure,” Murphy said this week.
Where do I go if I want to vote in person or deliver my ballot to a poll worker? How do I find my closest drop box?
The number of polling locations in the state will be reduced by about half, but officials said there should be at least one in every municipality. Every county will have at least 10 ballot drop boxes, D’Alessandro said. To find where polling places and drop boxes are, go to the information portal at nj.gov/state/elections/vote.shtml or call your county elections office.
Do I need ID to vote?
When are polls open on Election Day?
From 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.