On Saturday, October 3, Mercer County presented a seminar on voting during the pandemic (expanding on previous notifications covered by MercerMe here and here) during which new information and clarifications were introduced by Mercer County Clerk Sollami-Covello and a panel of other officials, including Anthony Francioso, the Mercer County Board of Elections (BOE) Chair.
Sollami-Covello reiterated the four different ways voters can turn in their ballot: by mail, in the drop box, at the BOE in Ewing, or at your polling location on election day. If a voter chooses to go to their in-person polling location, Sollami-Covello cautioned that it is advisable to take the mailed ballot and turn that in. Sollami-Covello also noted that there will be far fewer in-person polling locations than usual this year and her office will notify voters of location details by postcard before the election.
If a voter chooses to vote in-person but does not bring their mailed ballot, the voter will be given a provisional ballot, she explained. A provisional ballot is no different than the paper ballot sent in the mail, but because all registered voters in New Jersey will receive one, she explained, the provisional ballot would have to be checked against the list of mailed ballots to make sure the person did not vote twice, which slows down the process. Sollami-Covello emphasized that all ballots will be counted, but provisional ballots will not be counted until the deadline for receiving ballots (7 days after close of polls)* has passed.
Sollami-Covello said that the last day that her office would be mailing out ballots is Monday, October 5. So, she said, if a voter has not received a ballot by October 15 or thereabouts, they should call the Clerk’s office at 609-989-6494 or 6495.
According to Deputy County Clerk Walker Worthy, the last day to register to vote is October 13. (Check whether you are registered here.) If you believe you should be registered but you find out that you are not, Francioso suggested that you contact the Mercer County Superintendent of Elections.; contact information is here.
Francioso answered one of the more frequent questions MercerMe has seen: “What happens to ballots once they are put In the secure ballot box?”
Francioso explained that every day, including Sunday, a member of the County Sheriff’s Department drives a van carrying BOE employees to the ballot box sites and the Sheriff’s Department employee supervises the unloading of the ballot box. The BOE employee team is always composed of representatives of each party or one party and an unaffiliated voter. The drop box contains an interior steel box that can hold approximately 300 pounds of ballots. That interior box is removed to the van and a new one installed. The box is taken to the BOE office where the outside envelopes are scanned to make sure they are the only one received for that voter. Then the outer envelope is removed, and the signature is checked to make sure it matches the signature in the system. If everything matches up, the ballot is put in a vault; there are only two keys to the vault and a Democrat has one and a Republican has the other. Both keys are needed in order to open the vault.
Ballots will be held in the vault until 10 days before the election. The Governor has allowed this 10-day head start so that the BOE will have enough time to count. In previous election cycles, the BOE might process 20,000 votes by mail ballots; this year, Sollami-Covello noted that her office will send out more than 230,000 ballots. However, Francioso stated that no reports may be processed until the polls are closed on election day. Francioso emphasized that it is a third degree crime to produce a report or disclose results prior to the close of polls. Sollami-Covello indicated that her office will post the results they have on election night, but they will keep counting until November 20.
Francioso also talked about signature matching. Once ballots begin to come in to the BOE, he explained, they are required to meet up to four times per week to go through certification envelopes that have been flagged as having a signature that does not match. If the BOE believes there is a problem with a signature, they will contact the voter by mail with the opportunity to provide information to “cure” the issue.
Bonnie Epps, the County Clerk’s office Superintendent of Elections emphasized that it is very important to follow directions in completing the ballot. She emphasized:
· Look at both the back and front of the ballot to make sure you see everything there is to vote for;
· When your ballot is complete, fold it and put it in the certification envelope. Print your name, address, and sign it. Pull off the sticky strip and seal all the way across the envelope;
· Put the certification envelope inside the return envelope. Make sure your name and address shows on the outside, then seal it up, and it is ready to be sent.
Sollami-Covello answered another often-asked question: “Why can’t we vote on machines?” She explained that since the Governor ordered a primarily by mail election to protect people from exposure to COVID-19, ballots must be completed on paper. There is no way to track a machine-cast vote, she said. Since every registered voter is receiving a ballot, County officials need a way to be able to match those mailed out ballots against the votes cast and the only way to do that is by paper. People who certify that they have a disability that requires the use of a machine will be allowed to do so, but it will necessitate a wait: poll workers will need to call the BOE to confirm a ballot has not already been received for that person before they are allowed to vote.
Lastly, Sollami-Covello answered the question what to do if a household receives a ballot for a person who is deceased or doesn’t live there anymore. First, she emphasized that it is a crime for a person to submit someone else’s ballot. This is why signatures are checked, she explained. She said that in the case of a deceased person, if the family does not notify the BOE, it will take two federal elections before the person is purged from the voter rolls. The best thing you can do if you erroneously receive a ballot is to return it to the BOE marked Deceased or Moved as the case may be.
For all the information you need for Election Day 2020, click on the Election Day 2020 link at the top of the MercerMe homepage.
*Article edited 10/6 to change from 48 hours to 7 days, per Governor’s order. Thanks to sharp eyes of County Clerk Paula Sollami-Covello.