When you track your ballot on the New Jersey Division of elections website, the text indicates: “A voter’s ballot status won’t be changed to “Accepted” or “Rejected” until after the certification of the election, on November 20th.”
What does that mean? Many people have asked this question, so MercerMe set out to answer it!
According to a New Jersey Division of Elections (“DOE”) helpline employee, a ballot may be initially rejected if the signature does not match or is missing. The DOE website notes that County Board of Elections has been instructed per Governor Murphy’s executive order, that “[t]he County Boards of Elections shall meet at least four (4) days per week starting October 13, 2020 to begin verifying the signatures on the vote by mail ballots. Voters whose ballots are rejected for a missing or a mismatching signature, will be contacted and given the opportunity to cure the signature defect.”
The DOE website further clarifies that County Board of Elections will contact the “rejected ballot” voter immediately by phone, regular mail, and/or email to inform the voter of the inconsistency and give the voter the opportunity “to show that [they] did, in fact, cast that ballot”
According to the DOE helpline employee, the ballot tracker will not show accepted/rejected until after certification on November 20 because the DOE will be working until nearly that date to verify signatures.The helpline employee also said that the ballot tracker does not have the capacity to show whether the ballot has been pulled for verification, instead the County Board of Elections will work diligently to get in touch with the voter through election day and until the vote must be certified.
Marianne Rampulla, a Hunterdon County Board of Elections Commissioner, explained further: “If your ballot is rejected for signature issues, you will receive a ‘cure letter’ which must be returned by November 18 for your ballot to count. If you have a phone number or email on file with the BOE, you will also be contacted to alert you about your ballot cure.”
Rampulla continued: “[A voter] whose ballot is rejected for any other reason will receive a letter after the election stating the reason for the rejection. These are what we call ‘hard rejects,’ which cannot be cured.” She further explained that the most common reasons for “hard rejects” are a ballot that is missing the certificate, a bearer exceeds the limit of turning in three ballots per election cycle plus their own, or the voter does not meet residency requirements.
Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello opined that writing the wrong municipality on your ballot – a problem that comes up frequently in the Hopewell Valley where so many live in a different municipality then the one that is their postal address – would not cause a hard rejection. “It should not be a problem,” she said.
Sollami Covello also offered an explanation for what to do when there are more than one seat open:
“In school board races, candidates have the option to bracket together. In a race for three school board seats, you need not vote for all three candidates in a bracket. You can vote for all candidates in the bracket, or you can opt to vote for one or two of the bracketed candidates and other candidates in the race. The choice is yours. Also, your ballot will not be disqualified if you vote for less than three candidates total in that race. Unfortunately, if you vote for four candidates in a race for three seats, then none of the votes will count for that race. It will not disqualify your entire ballot but it will nullify all votes cast for that race only.”
Finally, as MercerMe reported here, a Mercer County Board of Elections employee tested positive for COVID in early October, which resulted in a temporary shut-down of the physical office and backlog of signature verifications. Anecdotally from people who have reported their experience to MercerMe, ballot tracking is currently taking about two weeks from when it is dropped off at a secure ballot box to show as “received” on the ballot tracker.
Keep following MercerMe’s Election Day 2020 tab at the top of the homepage for all the latest news about how to vote in New Jersey this year.