HIGHLIGHTS of A4276, 4320, and A4475
With the 2020 elections in New Jersey being primarily vote by paper ballot, it became even more urgent to pass legislation to address the main reasons ballots are rejected and improve the chance that every vote will count.
An election attorney drafted this overview of this important legislation that was passed by the NJ Legislature in August.
A4276 “The Ballot Cure Act”
New: Processing of VBM and provisional ballots is now a multi-step process:
- The signature certificates from regular and provisional ballots will be examined by a BoE employee for compliance and signature matching.
- VBM and provisional ballots whose signatures match will be accepted and their votes counted.
- Within 24 hours after a ballot is rejected, the BoE will notify the voter.
- For missing or mismatching signatures, the BoE will send voters a “Cure Letter” within 24 hours explaining the problem and, where possible, how to correct it.
- With the Cure Letter will be a “Cure Form” along with a return envelope with postage prepaid.
- The voter has until 2 days prior to the date for certification of the vote to cure any deficiency
- If the Cure Form is returned filled out or with a copy of one of the listed documents proving the voter’s identification and address, the ballot will be accepted.
- If the Cure Form isn’t returned or returned incomplete, the BoE will make a final determination about whether a VBM ballot should still be counted
This bill also includes:
- Voters can confidentiality find out the status of their ballot using the NJ “Track My Ballot” user portal.
- Beginning Feb. 21, 2021, the user portal will provide macro-reports with the total number of rejected ballots by county and by reason for rejection.
- VBM ballots cannot be rejected for physical defects outside the voter’s control.
- Minor variations in signatures, like the voter using initials for a first or middle name, will not be grounds for rejection.
- The Sec. of State will now prepare and provide educational materials for the BoE and its employees on how to handle ballots, the standards for acceptance and rejection of VBM and provisional ballots, and the safe holding of rejected ballot materials.
A4320 (Training, Education and Communication.)
- Require VBM Posters at polling stations showing how to VBM
- Accompanying the VBM ballot will be a notice advising the voter they can check the status of their VBM ballot on NJ’s free-access voter system.
- The Sec. of State will provide County Board of Election employees with educational materials on properly handling ballots, including:
- Standards for accepting and rejecting ballots.
- Safe-keeping of all materials in case of rejection
- Rejected VBM materials, including the outer and inner envelopes, will be kept for two years.
A4475 (Drop boxes and election process.)
- Counties will provide a minimum of 10 ballot drop boxes at least 45 days prior to the election.
- County ballot drop boxes are to be available 24 hours a day (and covered by security cameras).
- Drop boxes are to be located at:
- Every county government building in which the county clerk’s main office is located.
- Municipal government building which contains the municipal clerk’s main office (for communities over 5,000 residents).
- The main campus of every county community college, State college, or State university.
- The main campus of each independent four-year college or university (with more than 5,000 students).
- Additional drop boxes should be placed based on geographic location and population density.
- VBM ballots will be sent to all “Active” registered voters.
- VBM return envelopes will be sent with prepaid First-Class postage.
- Every voter will receive notice of ballot drop box locations, polling locations, and where to obtain a sample ballot.
- There is a minimum of one polling place per municipality and a minimum of 50% the normal number of polling locations.
- Primary and Secondary schools will be closed on Election Day.
- Provide for compliance with CDC guidelines and social distancing.
- Ballots postmarked by Nov. 3, 2020 and received by the BoE no later than 8p on Nov. 10, 2020 will be canvassed.
- Ballots missing postmarks or mis-marked (confirmed with USPS) and received by the BoE no later than 8p on Nov. 5, 2020 will be canvassed.
- To expedite the process, the BoE will meet at least 4 times per week starting Oct. 13, 2020.
- Election results must be certified by the county BoE no later than Nov. 20, 2020.
- Even though they may not have applied for the VBM ballot, voters are to sign the certification on the flap of the inner envelope.
- Anyone who canvasses completed VBM ballots (BoE members and employees) and discloses results prior to the closing of the polls is guilty of a crime punishable by up to 5 years in prison.