Gina Kim, Palisades Park Borough Clerk, gives step by step instructions on how to complete and return mail in ballots for the November 3rd elections.
More than 1 million New Jerseyans have already voted in the 2020 election, a figure that represents over 25% of total votes cast in the 2016 presidential race.
As of Tuesday — the final day voters could register before the election — 1,047,779 voters have returned their ballots in the largely vote-by-mail election, according to state election data obtained by the Atlantic Group’s Trenton Bureau through a public records request.
Democrats appear to be more motivated to get their ballots in early: 565,239 of votes cast came from Democrats compared to 238,424 from Republicans.
New Jersey has 6.4 million registered voters. Democrats are the biggest share, at 39%, followed by unaffiliated voters, 37%, and Republicans, 22%. Democrats’ share of the ballots already cast is 53% versus 22% for the GOP.
Voters nationwide have already delivered 17.1 million ballots in 41 states that report early voting data, according to the U.S. Elections Project, which shows Democrats across the nation appear more anxious to vote early than Republicans. In the 15 states that reveal party registration with its voting data, 4.3 million returned ballots have come from Democrats. Republicans have returned 1.8 million.
This is not a surprise. Democrats, hoping to give Democratic nominee Joe Biden a clear victory before Election Day ends, have urged their voters to send their ballots in now, while President Donald Trump has repeatedly maligned early voting.
Data from early voting is no predictor. In 2016, Democrats cheered news showing they held wide leads in early voting in Florida, but votes cast on Election Day helped Trump win the state by 1.2%.
Sheena Collum is the village president in South Orange, where 29% of voters have sent in their ballots. Collum said the prospect of ousting Trump is what is motivating her town’s residents to vote early. Hillary Clinton won South Orange by 85 percentage points in 2016.
“Our voters have been waiting for this for three years and 11 months,” Collum said.
Hunterdon No. 1
Voting early is new in New Jersey. Before the coronavirus restrictions led Gov. Phil Murphy to order largely mail-in elections in 2020, the only way to vote early before Election Day was to use a mail-in ballot.
In November 2016, 9% of voters cast ballots by mail. By last year, that amount had risen to 17%. Now that every voter is supposed to receive a mail-in ballot, the figure could reach 90% or more this year.
In the Garden State, Hunterdon County is doing best with early voting, with 34% of its ballots returned.
This county has 12,500 more Republicans than Democrats but 1,500 more Democrats have handed in ballots.
Cape May, Ocean, Camden, Sussex, Middlesex and Burlington counties all have return rates above 20%, according to the election data. In Bergen County, which issued 628,872 mail-in ballots, 11% of voters have returned theirs. Election officials in Bergen, which has more registered voters than any other county, did not immediately start marking returned ballots as received until late last week, so many of the ballots won’t be seen on the state data yet. Bergen County Board of Elections Commissioner Richard Miller said the actual percentage of returned ballots is closer to 23%.
In Mercer County, just 1% of its 236,001 ballots have been marked returned, giving it the worst response rate in the state. Anthony Francioso, chair of the Mercer County Board of Elections, said his staff has been quarantined because of some positive COVID-19 cases. Next week it should have figures that more accurately reflect how many ballots have been returned, he said.
Asked why Hunterdon’s numbers are so good, Hunterdon Clerk Mary Melfi chalked it up to superior performance by county officials.
“We credit it to having all the ballots out early (we were done mailing on 9/21/2020), a postcard mailed to all Hunterdon voters on 9/8 explaining the process, a clear informative webpage, a very strong Facebook presence — check out Hunterdon County Clerk on Facebook — along with a totally talented county clerk and elections board administrator,” Melfi said in an email.
Lambertville is the leader among the state’s 565 municipalities.
In this Hunterdon County city of 3,800, the number of returned ballots is 1,669, a 51% return rate. The next closest town is West Wildwood, in Cape May County, at 42%.
Lambertville Mayor Julia Fahl pointed to the presidential race and to the congressional campaign in New Jersey’s 7th District, where incumbent Tom Malinowski, D, is being challenged by Republican state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. Lambertville Democrats — who outnumber Republicans here by nearly 4-to-1 — are eager both to oust Trump and to give Malinowski a second term, said Fahl, also a Democrat.
“We hold a position of being one of the only Democratic towns in Hunterdon County,” said Fahl. “It’s really, really important that we put out a really good showing because this congressional race is as important as the presidential.”
Montclair is also one of the early voting leaders in the state. Voters here have returned 10,305 ballots, 31% of the 33,103 issued. 452 of the returned ballots came from Republicans.
Sean Spiller, the town’s mayor, said voters here are always enthusiastic but even more so in 2020. A Democrat and Biden delegate to the national convention this summer, Spiller said he and other town officials use every opportunity to urge voters to get their ballots in now.
“There is so much on the line. We know every election matters,” he said. “This one, I think, everybody understands what it means for our nation and certainly what it means for Montclair.”
Voters in the state’s biggest cities aren’t rushing to vote. In Newark, 11% of ballots have been returned. The Jersey City figure is 18% and Paterson is at just 6%.
“Some Patersonians got their ballots late last week,” said Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh. “I was one of them.”
Terrence T. McDonald is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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