By Marion Filler
With less than a month until the 2020 Presidential election, the Morris County Clerk’s Office on Monday completed preparation of paper ballots for more than 358,000 registered voters.
The final batch of 68,000 ballots, including those for Morristown voters, was delivered to the West Caldwell Post Office for distribution to the public, county Clerk Ann Grossi announced.
If your ballot does not arrive by Oct. 15, or is damaged in any way, call the Clerk’s Office at (973) 285-6066 for a duplicate. Scroll down for step-by-step primer on voting by mail.
Grossi is in charge of seeing that every registered voter gets a ballot. Board of Elections Administrator Dale Kramer oversees the collection and counting once they are returned. Both offices are in the Morris County Administration Building at 10 Court St. in Morristown.
For the past two weeks, Grossi’s 30-member staff and 10 temporary workers have been working to assemble the packets by hand. Because of the pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy has mandated that November’s election will be conducted almost entirely by mail, or via drop-off boxes.
Grossi looks forward to a good night’s sleep when this is over. Right now, she is feeling the pressure.
“I know people are very upset about this election, but I want them to feel comfortable voting. I’m optimistic people will do what they’re supposed to do, and cast their votes. We’ve made it very easy to do it,” she said last week, during a behind-the-scenes tour for Morristown Green.
Video: A vote-by-mail primer from Morris County Clerk Ann Grossi:
This election is a monumental undertaking. States such as Oregon have been voting by mail for 20 years, Grossi said. “We are trying to do everything like that in six months.”
As an extra precaution to prevent envelopes from coming unglued, as they did during the Morris Township Committee election last year, Grossi ordered peel-and-seal envelopes this time around.
Neatly stacked bins contained thousands of ready-to-mail ballots last week. Helpers, like Lillian Simms from Parsippany, were busy stuffing envelopes.
“This is better than CPR,” joked the retired nurse, who has been working 12-hour days, inserting up to 1,000 ballots into envelopes each day.
Deborah Valerian was pulled into action from the county finance department, sorting ballots for Grossi each afternoon. There were occupational hazards: Valerian wound up with a paper cut on her wrist.
Morris County had a warmup run during the July primary (pushed back from June).
According to Grossi, 98,000 paper ballots were cast, during a primary with an unusually high 48 percent turnout. The most paper ballots seen in prior Morris elections was about 40,000, she said.
Grossi said it costs about $350,000 to conduct an election in a normal year. The Primary cost $1.2 million, and November will be bigger and cost more.
The Board of Elections and Dale Kramer are preparing for a sustained period of activity that will last well beyond Election Day on Nov. 3.
Drop boxes seem like an ideal way to submit a ballot, but there are only 15 of them for the 39 municipalities in Morris County. Dover didn’t get any.
“The New Jersey Secretary of State determines how many boxes each county receives, based on population,” Kramer said, noting the allocation was determined in late August.
The county board— two Democrats and two Republicans, plus Kramer—decided where to place these boxes. An important consideration was whether a town could provide 24-7 video surveillance. That appears to have been the problem with Dover.
“Some municipalities did not have the 24-7 camera surveillance required. The state will pay for cameras, but we would have to get quotes and all that stuff,” said Kramer.
Drop boxes are in demand.
“Everyone wants them, but we didn’t have enough to give everyone. The placements were not political,” she said. “We didn’t look at party affiliation. We looked at the map, and we looked at the numbers.”
Made of steel and weighing 600 pounds, the boxes must be bolted to the ground. They cost about $6,000 each, including transportation and installation, Kramer said.
Ballots will be collected daily from the boxes, Kramer said. One Democrat and one Republican will accompany county Sheriff’s officers to collect and deliver the ballots to the Board of Elections. The last pick up is at 8 p.m. on Election Day.
These returns completely bypass the Post Office, so there is no possibility of delay. The actual counting process starts 10 days before Nov. 3, by teams comprising both parties. Final tallies are expected by mid-November.
Devon Donovan, 24, lives in Boonton but came to Morristown last week to deposit her ballot in the drop box outside the county Administration Building. No drop-off box had been installed in Boonton at that point.
“Unfortunately, with what’s been going in with the mail, I wanted it here,” said Donovan, 24, who works in Rockaway as a substance abuse counselor. “I just wanted to get my ballot in as soon as possible.”
The first presidential debate had been the previous night. “After 10 minutes, I couldn’t watch it,” Donovan said. “It was difficult to watch.”
COMPLETE AND MAIL YOUR BALLOT
The big white packet you will receive contains THREE items essential to make your vote count: A Ballot; a Certificate Envelope that bears your name, address and identification bar code; and a Return Envelope.
1. THE BALLOT must be completed front and back. Use dark ink to completely fill out the circle. Do not use an X or a check mark because the computer cannot read it.
2. THE CERTIFICATE ENVELOPE into which you fold and place the ballot. This is a self-sealing envelope. On the outside flap of the envelope is a section called “A Certificate of Mail-In Voter.” It contains your name, address, an identifying bar code, and most importantly, a place for your signature. DO NOT TEAR OFF THE PERFORATION. Sign the flap where indicated–just as you would sign the poll book during a normal election–because your signature will be scanned and compared to the one on file. Be sure to seal this envelope.
3. THE RETURN POST PAID ENVELOPE ADDRESSED TO THE BOARD OF ELECTIONS. Place the sealed Certificate Envelope into the Return Envelope. It may be a snug fit, but it definitely works. Also make sure your name, address, and bar code, show through the window just like a return address. This is the part that is immediately scanned by the Board of Elections upon receipt, and confirms that your vote has been received. The Ballot then will be removed from the sealed Certificate Envelope and counted.
That’s it. Now for the next step.
No stamp is necessary to mail the ballot. You can take it to the Post Office or you can take it to a drop box. Find the nearest one here.
Be advised that only the disabled can vote electronically at the polls.
However, residents also have the option of bringing their completed, sealed ballot in the official return envelope to a polling station on Election Day. The only polling station in Morristown is at the Municipal Building, 200 South St.
If you show up at the polls without your sealed ballot, you will be given a Provisional paper ballot to fill out on the spot. Provisional ballots are the last to be counted because of extensive cross-checking, to make sure no one votes twice. However, they always are counted, regardless of the closeness of a race, Kramer said.
HOW TO TRACK YOUR VOTE BY MAIL IN BALLOT
You can track whether your ballot has been received and accepted. It’s easy to register, using either a driver’s license or social security number. You then will be asked to create a user name and password.
After submitting your mail-in ballot, wait a few days, and log in where you registered.
Navigate to “Election History” or “Mail-In Ballot History.” When your ballot has been received by the Board of Elections, the web page will display “Ballot Received Date.” Once the ballot is accepted, the “Ballot Status” will show as “Accepted.” If your ballot has not been received yet, it will not be listed.
Kevin Coughlin contributed to this report.