On Friday, May 15, Governor Murphy issued Executive Order 144, which set forth the details of how New Jersey will go to the polls for the July 7, 2020, Presidential Primary election. The Presidential Primary, originally scheduled for June 2, was already postponed one month by Governor Murphy because of the inherent risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The new Executive Order establishes this primary as a “primarily vote by mail” election, which will be the first such statewide election in New Jersey’s history. PGA client Center for Secure and Modern Elections is pleased that Governor Murphy included several of its recommendations.
While approximately 33 municipalities across New Jersey held “all vote by mail” local elections on May 12, 2020, as a result of the necessary social distancing restrictions in the Garden State, many election advocates had concerns about an all vote by mail statewide election. Concerns of disenfranchisement, fraud, and general voter confusion led advocates to urge state policymakers, specifically Governor Murphy and Secretary of State Tahesha Way, to authorize a hybrid election for the July primary. Recognizing that social distancing and the general concerns of crowded polling places made a typical election day in New Jersey unnecessarily risky in light of COVID-19, advocates urged expanded VBM with adequate physical polling places, with appropriate standards to protect public health.
Ultimately, Executive Order 144 sets forth the following requirements for the Presidential Primary on July 7, 2020:
- All registered Republican and Democratic voters will be mailed ballots. All undeclared or independent voters will receive a vote by mail ballot application. Return postage shall be paid by the State.
- Each county shall ensure that at minimum 50% of the polling places county-wide shall be operational, but no less than one per each municipality. Additionally, no less than five secure ballot drop locations shall be established in each county.
- No sample ballots shall be mailed. Rather, each county shall mail voters a notice about the election, the location of their polling place, and the ways a voter can obtain a sample ballot.
- Strict social distancing guidelines shall be adhered to at each physical polling location as well as infection control measures, sanitation of equipment, frequent handwashing breaks for poll workers, and adherence to the most current CDC guidelines for PPE.
- In-person votes shall be cast using provisions ballots
- The VBM ballot return dates shall be July 14, 2020. All VBM ballots postmarked on or before July 7 but returned by July 14 shall be valid and shall be counted.