As the United States prepares to hold a presidential election in the midst of a deadly pandemic, many states have adjusted how they are holding their elections to minimize in-person contact at the polls, including New Jersey.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, issued an order making New Jersey a universal mail-in election state, meaning that all active voters will be sent mail-in ballots without needing to request them. This was done unilaterally by the governor, and the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee sued Murphy over the order.
Murphy said the order would help to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“COVID-19 has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives, from our health and safety to how we participate in our democracy,” Murphy said as he announced the order. “This virus continues to threaten public health, and with today’s announcement, we are ensuring that New Jersey voters do not have to make a decision between exercising their right to vote and protecting their well-being.”
Murphy’s order also extends the deadline for mail-in ballots to be returned, meaning they will be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 10. Ballots without a postmark received within two days of polls closing will also be counted.
The order requires at least one in-person polling place in each town and at least half of the polling places that were normally open before the pandemic to be open to let voters vote in person. But voters must bring the mail-in ballot sent to them and turn that in as their vote, otherwise they will have to vote with a provisional ballot at their polling place.
Murphy’s order also takes some precautions against a practice often called “ballot harvesting,” in which third parties can gather votes for others and turn them in. That is a departure from what other states, like Nevada, are doing with their universal mail-in systems. Nevada legalized the practice in legislation passed earlier this year.
In New Jersey, however, “[a] voter may return only the mail-in ballot that they personally voted to their designated polling place.”
There will, however, be drop boxes for voters to deposit their ballots if they opt not to deliver them to a polling place or mail their ballots.