Morris deadline extended until Sept. 19 for those confusing ‘vote by mail’ forms

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If you were among the thousands of Morris County residents who voted by mail in the last presidential election, and you’re feeling frazzled by a form you received this week, the Morris County Clerk’s Office wants you to know two things:

The deadline to return this document has been extended from today, Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, until Wednesday, Sept. 19.

And as for the confusion:

“It’s not our fault,” said Deputy Clerk John Wojtaszek.

Some quick explanation: Gov. Murphy signed a bill (S647) on Aug. 10 that says anyone who voted by mail in 2016 automatically will continue receiving ballots in the mail unless he or she returns a form opting out of this process.

If people on this list fail to opt out, and then show up at the polls on Nov. 6, poll workers will bar them from using a voting machine. 

In that case, such voters still could cast  “provisional” written ballots. (However, those don’t get counted until days later, which could prolong the outcome of close races, Wojtaszek noted.)

Although the new law has some good features, Wojtaszek said, all 21 county clerks in New Jersey indicated there was not enough time to properly implement it for this election cycle.

Letter sent by Morris Clerk Ann Grossi to vote-by-mail residents, September 2018.
Letter sent by Morris Clerk Ann Grossi to vote-by-mail residents, September 2018.

The Secretary of State’s office gave little guidance on how to proceed, said the deputy clerk, who is handling Morris election details for Clerk Ann Grossi, who recused herself because she is running for re-election.

There was no standard letter for clerks to send with these opt-out forms, nor was there much time to print them. Morris County sent the forms on either side of Labor Day, and some residents only received them this week, Wojtaszek said.

“It’s been a nightmare…we’re getting hundreds of calls,” he said, adding that Morris County had to spend about $11,000 on new envelopes. 

The New Jersey Department of State referred press inquiries to the Governor’s office.

“Governor Murphy believes that no voter should be disenfranchised. Expanded vote by mail is a critical step that will help ensure that all eligible voters are able to participate in the democratic process,” Deputy Press Secretary Alyana Alfaro said in a statement.

An opt-out form is online here.

By Sept. 22, Wojtaszek’s four-person election staff must turn around and send up to 30,000 ballots to citizens who voted by mail in 2016.

Under the new law, clerks now may accept these ballots up to 48 hours after Election Day, as long as they bear a postmark of Election Day. Previously, mail-in ballots had to be received by Election Day or they were not counted.

This change also could prolong the outcome of tight races, Wojtaszek said.

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