NJ GOP, Trump campaign sue to stop Murphy’s mail-in voting plan
The state Republican Party and the Trump re-election campaign are trying to put a stop to Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order making November's election a mostly vote-by-mail event, arguing it violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The order issued Friday would send a ballot to every eligible voter whether the voter has applied to vote by mail or not, in an effort to cut down on long lines at voting locations and community spread of the novel coronavirus. Polling places will still be available —at least one in every municipality — but in-person votes will be considered provisional until officials verify the same voter didn't send in a mail-in ballot.
In all elections, provisional votes are verified and counted before results are official.
State GOP Chairman Doug Steinhardt called the plan an "unlawful power grab by New Jersey Democrats" that is open to fraud.
"Phil Murphy has ravaged our constitutional rights, upended our economy and sacrificed the health of our veterans and senior citizens. The NJGOP will not let him hijack our right to send his party a message this November, too," Steinhardt said in a statement Tuesday night. "We will always fight for free, fair and open elections where every person who is legally entitled to vote can do so."
The party will be represented by state Sen. Michael Testa who said in a statement Murphy is trying to "blow up decades of established election law, and a system that is working, through an executive order."
Republicans said they are concerned that the order treats votes made in person as "second class" because they are only considered provisional. They cited rejected ballots and allegations of voter fraud in Paterson, where 900 ballots mailed in bulk during this year's primary election have yet to be counted, as demonstrating the potential for fraud.
Paterson City Councilman Michael Jackson, Councilman-Elect Alex Mendez, and two other men were charged with criminal conduct involving mail-in ballots during the May election, according to the Attorney General's office. Hundreds of mail-in ballots were found in a mailbox in Paterson. Numerous additional ballots were found in a mailbox in Haledon.
Murphy, at Monday's coronavirus briefing, said votes cast in person would need to be provisional as a poll worker would not know if a voter had already cast a ballot. He said the state was pleased how the July 7 primary vote went and was confident the November vote would go well. He said he also saw the Paterson case as a learning experience.
"Everyone talks about the Paterson example, which was a local election in May, before we did the hybrid version in July, and I view that data point in Paterson as a positive one. People tried to mess with the system and they got caught and they've been indicted, and that's the way it should be," Murphy said.
As more states go to a similar mail-in election, the U.S. Postal Service has warned it may not be able to handle the numbers of ballots returned by voters.
The laws, according to a letter sent to 46 states, create a “risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted."
Postmaster general Louis DeJoy announced Tuesday he is halting some operational changes to mail delivery “to avoid even the appearance of impact on election mail.”
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal also on Tuesday, before DeJoy's announcement, said New Jersey would sue the post office. More than 20 states had agreed to join a suit to force the postal service to stop the changes.
"Voting by mail is safe, secure, and reliable," New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a tweet. "We intend to keep it that way. As AG, I've made it my mission to hold accountable those who try to corrupt our political process."
The governor's office on Wednesday morning had not yet responded to Townsquare Media's request for more information.
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