Governor Election Includes Thousands More Mail-In Ballots With New Law

vote-by-mail-ballot.jpgThousands more mail-in ballots will be counted today than in the 2005 general election, thanks to new legislation that says voters can use the vote-by-mail for any reason. But election officials say they have been pacing their count throughout the day so it won’t take any longer than usual to tally results after polls close tonight. The ease of using the ballots encourages more residents to vote, said Susan Evans, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Division of Elections.

“It’s convenient for people who have busy schedules, long commuting hours or family obligations and find it difficult to get to the polls,” she said. “There was some effort to promote this opportunity.”

Voters can sign up to vote by mail for an entire calendar year or for every general election, she said. For this election, county clerks issued 185,000 mail-in ballots, and more than 136,000 have already been returned. That’s still far less than in last year’s presidential election, when 235,000 people voted by mail, Evans said.

Voters who have not already sent in their mail-in ballots have until the polls close at 8 p.m. to deliver them to the county offices.

Absentee ballots were replaced with the mail-in this year with the vote-by-mail system. Unlike absentee ballots, voters don’t need to give a reason for requesting a mail-in ballot. Absentee ballots were restricted to people with disabilities, those who would be out of town on Election Day or whose work hours would otherwise prevent them from voting.

This year, the number of mail-in ballots issued in Morris County was almost double compared to the 2005 race — just over 9,800, as compared to 5,400 ballots in 2005, said Adam Smith, an elections clerk. Similar numbers were reported in Union County, where about 9,000 mail-in ballots were sent out this year, compared to about 6,400 in 2005.

Election officials started counting the mail-in ballots when polls opened today. Voters shade in bubbles on the paper ballots and officials sometimes use optical scans, a machine similar to those use to grade tests, to read them. Preliminary results are expected to be tallied an hour or two after the polls close tonight.

As for voter turnout at polling booths, a year has made a big difference, according to officials in counties around the state. While last year, most voting places had lines snaking around corners for the presidential race, the response hasn’t nearly been the same, officials said.

“All the feedback I’ve gotten so far is that not only is it not like last year, but even with the gubernatorial election, we’re not getting a big turnout,” said Jerry Midgette, the administrator for the Somerset County Board of Elections.

In Middlesex County, officials said they have not heard of any large turnouts or major problems at the poling places — only a few voters who wanted to know if they could vote despite having forgotten their mail-in ballots. They were told they could using provisional ballots. Star Ledger

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