By: Tim Intelisano
Earlier this year, New Jersey expanded in person early voting in the state. Now, that legislation was put to the test in the 2021 general election in early November.
Thus far, it has not been smooth sailing. For one, many counties struggled to recruit enough poll workers. This is an issue that other states, including Ohio, also bemoaned this year. The concern in New Jersey was so severe that newly re-elected Governor Phil Murphy used an executive order to raise the pay of election workers. The pay raise was modest—going from $200 to $300 dollars for a day’s work. It did not escape notice that workers in the June primary were paid $400 dollars for a day of service, though that higher award was attributed almost exclusively to the dangers and uncertainty around coronavirus. Additionally, Governor Murphy’s executive order also permitted poll workers to work outside of the county where they resided. Officials felt that this would be a useful tool for municipalities, since for unknown reasons some towns and counties just had an easier time signing up the requisite number of poll workers.
The June primary was also notable because the New Jersey National Guard assisted in the running of the election. It was the first time in the State’s history that such a drastic action had been taken. Some soldiers worked to aid counting efforts for the entire two weeks following the June vote. While this was a new phenomenon in the Garden State, the National Guards of several US states have been known to provide technical and logistical support on Election Day. The 2020 general election saw an increase in the prevalence of National Guard personnel, for both technical support and to guard against any potential civil unrest. Governor Murphy resisted calling on the National Guard to help run this fall’s election, much to the chagrin of some local officials. The Governor did, however, leave the door open to doing so if need be.
As noted above, the expansion of in-person early voting meant that the polls would be open and accessible for more days than ever before. The sweeping law from my first linked blog post, also took a stab at improving the technology underpinning New Jersey elections. For the first time ever, at more than 139 locations statewide, entirely electronic poll books were used by elections officials. While not uniform in every county, some of these electronic poll books have scanners for drivers licenses, which could expedite the sign in process for voters. County officials have three different E-Poll Books to choose from, and only time will tell if each system functions at the highest level (or if the state feels the need to make one of the E-Poll books uniform statewide.). The actual voting machines were also electronic. The state has agreed to pay for much of the technological upgrades, to the tune of an estimated $83 million dollars. State and local elections officials will be in charge of monitoring the almost 900 electronic poll books, with a close eye on ensuring a smooth process for voters seeking to cast a ballot. Notably, all mail in ballots must be turned in to drop boxes or at County Board of Election’s offices; voters cannot take them to any of the early voting or normal polling centers.
In the post-mortem, New Jersey will have a plethora of new policies to evaluate. It will be enlightening to see how a state that worked so hard to expand ballot access, fares with their first election under the new scheme.