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County Could See 30,000 Mail-in Ballots in July 7 Primary

No sample ballots were mailed to voters for this year’s primary election; however

By Karen Knight

COURT HOUSE – More than 43,000 active Republican- and Democratic-registered voters, along with 800 “inactive” or unaffiliated voters, received their primary ballots over the past several weeks, and county election officials are urging them to vote and return the ballots as soon as they can, so they can be processed to protect against voter fraud.
Cape May County election officials are preparing to receive 10 times the number of mail-in ballots they would receive under “normal” voting conditions, and will have a week to get them counted and report official results.
“I’ve been talking with voters over the past two weeks, and for many, this is the first time they are doing mail-in voting, and people are not happy about it,” said County Clerk Rita Fulginiti, whose office  distributes the ballots.
“I get why they are outraged,” she added, “but let me assure you that we run a fair election in Cape May County. Each mail-in ballot will be checked to be sure that every signature on the outside envelope is confirmed against the voter registration records. They don’t get opened until Election Day (July 7) and if there are duplicates, the last one is the one that gets counted.
“It’s a fair process that we do carefully,” she stressed.
Because of COVID-19 precautions, Gov. Phil Murphy signed Executive Order 144 (https://bit.ly/2V0b3N2) that created a modified vote-by-mail election for the July 7 primary. The order requires that each county’s election officials send vote-by-mail ballots to all registered Democrat and Republican voters, and applications to unaffiliated and inactive voters. All vote-by-mail ballots and applications will come with pre-paid postage.
In addition to returning ballots by mail, there are five drop boxes installed throughout the county, so voters can drop off their ballots 24/7, until the polls close at 8 p.m. July 7. There will also be at least one polling place open in each municipality for voters to drop off a ballot or vote with a provisional ballot. In New Jersey, unaffiliated voters are able to select a party on Primary Day and vote with a provisional ballot.
According to Mike Kennedy, Democratic registrar for the county Board of Elections, who oversees the election and counts the ballots, each returned ballot will be scanned into the state’s voter registration system to verify signatures and ensure one vote per person.
In a “typical” primary, Cape May County Board of Elections receives 2,000-3,000 mail-in ballots, according to Kennedy. They anticipate receiving upwards of 30,000 this year, and that takes time to scan, verify and process. Once validated, the ballots are kept under lock and double-set of keys – one held by the Republicans, the other by the Democrats – so both need to be present to open the location.
No ballots are opened until Primary Day, when teams of Republicans and Democrats will count the votes. Ballots used at the polling locations are considered provisional until they have been verified.
“We mailed out 43,974 active Republican and Democratic mail-in ballots,” said Fulginiti. Unaffiliated and inactive voters – those whose ballots were returned in the mail – also received applications to vote.  
Sample ballots are not being mailed out to voters, according to Fulginiti. Instead, a post card was mailed to inform voters of where they could access a sample ballot and where a polling place was located within their municipality. The list of polling places can be found at https://bit.ly/3fF54F9.
“The paper ballots must be postmarked by 8 p.m. July 7, when the voting ends,” stressed Fulginiti. They can also be dropped off at the County Clerk’s Office, 7 Main St., Court House; the Board of Elections Office, 10 West Mechanic St., Court House; or at the drop box at any of these five locations:
* Lower Township Public Safety Building, court entrance, 405 Breakwater Rd., Erma
* County Clerk’s Office
* County Public Works Building, Woodbine-Ocean View Road
* Sea Isle City Library, 4800 Central Ave.
* Stone Harbor Library, 9516 2nd Ave.
“The drop boxes are under camera surveillance,” Kennedy pointed out, “and depending on volume, we may be picking them up daily.”
At the polling places, only provisional paper ballots will be available. That means there will be no voting machines at the polling places, according to Kennedy. 
Polling locations will be required to follow public health standards, including 6 feet of distance, requiring poll workers to wear face coverings and gloves, frequent sanitization of high-touch areas, and providing sanitization materials to all individuals at a polling place.
The Board of Elections will have seven additional days after the close of the polls, until July 15, to receive ballots by U.S. Postal Service and count ballots before certifying results.
Across the county, Fulginiti said, there are “not many races,” but they did have to develop 127 different ballots for the Democrats and 127 for the Republicans because the county committees run every four years, with two seats in each of the 127 districts per party. 
In Stone Harbor, she said, there are three candidates vying for two council seats; multiple candidates are seeking spots for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives races, as well as the Democratic presidential spot.
People with disabilities who do not have assistance to fill out a ballot should call the County Clerk’s Office at (609) 465-1010. In addition, those snowbirds who are still sheltering at their winter residence should call the County Clerk’s Office if their mail is not being forwarded and request a ballot.
“If you receive a ballot, please vote that ballot, if possible,” Fulginiti urged. “If you lose it, or don’t have it, you can get a provisional ballot at polling places.”
Voting under these pandemic restrictions is a first for Fulginiti, who noted Election Day a week after Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012 was close in providing similar challenges. “This is certainly a unique experience,” she said. “Our office has been closed to the public since March 17, but we’ve been rotating staff in the office, getting ready for this primary.”
“We’ve never done anything to this magnitude before with paper ballots,” Kennedy pointed out. 
“Because of COVID-19 and the social distancing, we’ve not all been in the office at the same time, so we are hoping that we will be able to get them processed and opened within the timeframe allowed,” he added.
“No one should have to choose between their health and exercising their right to vote,” said Murphy, in signing the executive order. “By providing vote-by-mail ballots and applications, New Jersey voters will be able to safely participate in our democracy, as the pandemic continues to threaten our public health.”
To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com.

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