NJ polling places with issues should extend hours, advocate says
UPDATE: Judge has rejected a request to extend polling hours
TRENTON – State and county officials should consider extending polling hours beyond 8 p.m. at some locations that had hours-long problems administering today’s election, says a voting-rights advocacy group.
This is the first election in New Jersey since early voting was adopted, which means new technology including electronic poll books is being used across the state. That wasn’t an issue during the nine days of early voting that ended Sunday but appears to be today.
“There are a lot of polling places where things are going really well – no issues, steady stream of voters coming in and using the new technology and things are going well,” said Henal Patel, director of the Democracy and Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “We are, however, hearing of issues in a number of places around the state – some places bigger issues than others.”
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Patel said she has heard of issues in Middlesex County, particularly in Piscataway, as well as in Jersey City and Passaic County. She said the problems aren’t clear but that they should be investigated by the counties and, if necessary, the state.
“It’s not clear if it’s just an issue with the new technology or if it’s human error, poll workers using the new technology,” Patel said. “They’re concerns because voters shouldn’t be dealing with issues when they’re trying to cast their vote, and more importantly there shouldn’t be any issues where they can’t cast a vote.”
The NJISI and its partner groups are part of a nonpartisan ‘election protection’ coalition that can be reached at 1-866-OUR-VOTE. The state also has a hotline, 1-877-NJ-VOTER, as do the Democrats and Republicans.
“We do urge all voters, if they were on a line and had to leave, that they should come back and try to vote. If you can’t do that by 8 p.m., please, please reach out,” Patel said. “Let us know and we can try to find a solution for you. But we do urge voters that they come and vote and make sure that they can cast a ballot.”
Provisional voting option
Patel said voters who run into trouble at a polling place can request a provisional ballot if they’re not going to be able to leave and return by 8 p.m.
“Provisional ballots do count. They verify, they are safe and secure,” she said. “They verify that you haven’t voted yet, that you are a registered voter, and they will count them. So, please use the provisional ballots if you have no other option. That is a backstop for voters. It is a voter access tool.
“But otherwise, if you had to leave a polling place and don’t think you can make it back by 8 p.m., please call us,” Patel said. “We can discuss some options, including possible legal options.”
Patel said the close of the polls should perhaps be extended in some places.
“We are urging, hoping that in these areas that we have been seeing some issues, especially ones that persisted for a couple of hours in places, that the counties, the state look into – get whatever they need to get in order to keep these polling places open longer in the day,” she said.
Early voting smooth
Patel said that during the nine days of early in-person voting from Oct. 23 to 31, in which nearly 208,000 people voted, there were some voter confusion questions but no issues to the extent of what’s being seen today.
“The counties did do a good job in implementing the new law and the new technology. The e-poll books were used for nine days during it,” she said. “There were fewer sites and certainly less people coming into individual sites to vote. So, these are things we just need to figure out what happened today.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.