Just days before Election Day, New Jersey’s voter turnout has hit 80% of the state’s total number of ballots cast in 2016, state officials said Friday. And unlike next door in Pennsylvania, many of those 3.1 million votes are already being counted.
After Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order in August to make New Jersey’s election a mostly mail-in event by mailing ballots to most voters, he signed a bill allowing counties to open and process ballots up to 10 days early. The law, specific to this year’s election, prohibits elections officials from collecting tallies of the results or releasing information before the polls close.
New Jersey officials believe the measure will minimize delays in getting conclusive election results — an ongoing concern across the river in Pennsylvania, where Republicans have turned away pleas by local elections administrators from across the state to allow what’s known as “pre-canvassing” of mail.
Pennsylvania’s law prohibiting counties from processing ballots before 7 a.m. on Election Day means that election night results will only reflect a fraction of the mail vote — potentially leaving the results unclear for days. Several counties won’t start counting mail ballots until the next day.
Democrats are more likely to vote by mail than Republicans, so results from in-person voting are likely to skew heavily toward President Donald Trump, then shift as mail ballots are counted — a phenomenon known as “the blue shift.” And after three conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court this week held open the possibility of reversing a state court ruling that extended the deadline for returning mail ballots, Pennsylvania Democrats are increasingly alarmed that the high court might intervene to discard those votes.
The negotiations over pre-canvassing in Pennsylvania are particularly fraught, given the state is a political battleground that could decide the election. But in solidly Democratic New Jersey, Alicia D’Alessandro, spokesperson for the secretary of state, said some counties will likely have conclusive results on election night.
Rich Ambrosino, one of the Republican members of the Camden County board of elections, said the office is expected to receive about 280,000 mailed ballots. That’s about five times the normal volume.
Officials started opening envelopes on Tuesday, he said, using a mail sorter and scanners that can read thousands of ballots per hour. The machines record votes but don’t add them up until an elections official gives that command. Ambrosino said that if he tried to get election results before the polls close next week — a felony under the new law — the system would alert state officials who could trace it to his individual login.
“They would know immediately who did it, and I would probably go to jail,” he said.
D’Alessandro and other state officials are recommending that voters who have not sent in their ballots should not mail them at this point, but use one of the drop boxes located throughout the state, or hand-deliver them to a poll worker on Tuesday.
Those who choose to vote in person can fill out provisional ballots at the polls, she said. Only voters who cannot fill out a paper ballot will use machines.
Provisional ballots cannot be counted until a week after the election, to ensure that those who received mail ballots did not vote twice.