Many Veronans got their mail-in ballots on Saturday. The rest of our registered voters will get theirs soon. The avalanche of mail-in ballots is perhaps the most visible example of how voting will be different this year. With so many questions swirling around how those ballots will be processed and counted, MyVeronaNJ turned to Essex County Clerk Christopher J. Durkin for answers.
1. Can I vote in person?
Sort of. All in-person voting in Verona is being moved to the gyms at Verona High School this year. But voting in person won’t be the fastest way to make your voice heard. That’s because you will be voting on a paper provisional ballot, which will be counted only once county election officials have made sure that you haven’t also mailed in a ballot. Only individuals with disabilities will be able to vote on a machine.
2. How do I mail my ballot back?
Every mail-in ballot has postage on it, so you won’t need a stamp. Follow all the directions on the envelope about signing and sealing. But rather than drop it in the closest mail slot, consider bringing your ballot to a post office and ask them to postmark it. That will show election officials that you met the required deadlines: Your ballot must be postmarked on or before Election Day, November 3.
3. Should I put my ballot in a drop box instead?
Yes. It will be faster and more direct. Since the primary, when there were only five ballot boxes county-wide, Essex County has installed at least one secure ballot box in every town. Verona’s is located right outside the police department at 600 Bloomfield Avenue, but you can pick another location if that is more convenient. There are surveillance cameras on all ballot boxes. But your ballot must be in a ballot box no later than 8 p.m. on November 3.
4. Can I mail or drop my neighbors’ ballots too?
Sort of. Some Verona voters have been saying on social media that they’re going to be a good neighbor and take care of other people’s ballots. But the law says you can only be a bearer for up to three voters: Yourself and two others, so you can’t collect from the whole neighborhood. And if you are going to be a bearer, you have to properly sign the front of the ballot envelope.
5. What are they doing to prevent fraud?
Lots. In addition to the barcode on the ballot and the secure drop boxes, signature verification is a key step against fraud. (There is very little fraud in American elections; see the non-partisan Brennan Center or the conservative Heritage Foundation for details.) When your ballot arrives at the county Board of Elections, the signature on it is checked against the one on file just like when you vote in person. If it doesn’t seem match (our signatures do change over time and can be affected by diseases, like arthritis), your ballot goes to a panel of two Republicans and two Democrats for review. If they decide it is your signature, the ballot goes into the counting machine. If they have doubts, you will get a letter asking you to “cure” your ballot–that is, prove your identity. Respond to that letter promptly.
6. How are ballots counted?
There are 540,000 registered voters in Essex County, so the county has purchased nine optical scanners to process all the ballots that come in. In August, the New Jersey state legislature voted to allow election officials to begin scanning and counting ballots 10 days before the election, instead of only on Election Day, as was the case in the past. New Jersey joins 17 other states with similar early count laws, including several key swing states.
7. When will we know who won?
In New Jersey, it’s a felony to release a vote count before the polls close on Election Day. Thanks to the number of scanners in Essex County, Durkin expects to have 90% of our vote tallied on Election Night. You can follow the results here. Other New Jersey counties haven’t invested as much in scanners so they could lag Essex County.
8. What if I’m not registered to vote?
Lots of people have moved to Verona since the pandemic started and you have until Tuesday, October 13 to register properly here. You can either register online through the state or submit the paper form to Essex County. If you don’t know whether you are registered to vote at your current address, check here. You can also change your voter address when you change your driver license through the Motor Vehicle Commission website.
9. What if I don’t get my ballot?
All registered Verona voters should get their ballot by Monday, October 5. If yours doesn’t arrive in time, check that you are properly registered to vote and register if necessary. If you have questions, Call the County Clerk at (973) 621-4921, or email [email protected]
10. How can I be certain my vote was counted?
New Jersey now has a service called Track My Ballot.
If you still have questions, they can probably be answered by watching the video below of a voter information session featuring Durkin and Verona Municipal Clerk Jennifer Kiernan that was sponsored by the Verona Democratic Committee on Wednesday, September 16. Kiernan also answered questions about voting during the September 21 Town Council meeting.
Question: My ballot went to my old address. This makes sense, because I always answered no, to wether I wanted change of address, to effect my registration. I was good with going to Brookdale. Had been at Forest, didn’t think moving to Northside, should change where I voted. With the current ballot system, if my address is now different, will it be an issue? Still in Verona.
Call the County Clerk at (973) 621-4921.