Over 700K in NJ voted early – in some counties more than others
TRENTON – Nearly 11% of registered voters have already cast ballots ahead of Tuesday’s election, according to the state Division of Elections.
The 703,199 votes amount to almost one-third of the nearly 2.2 million votes cast in the 2017 gubernatorial election.
The tally includes 495,336 people whose vote-by-mail ballots had been received as of Sunday, 7.6% of registered voters, and 207,863 who voted in person at 139 early polling places that were open for nine days, 3.2% of those registered.
Early in-person voting ended Sunday, and Gov. Phil Murphy declared the first-time program a success.
“Remember, we have no muscle memory in this state doing this. We’ve never done this before, so we always knew this was going to be the beginning of a journey,” Murphy said. “This is absolutely the right step to take, and I’m incredibly happy we’ve taken it.”
“If you said to me 207,000 early in-person votes over nine days, I think that’s a terrific result,” he said. “And that’s alongside just under 500,000 votes by mail, so you’ve got basically 700,000 votes that have been cast. That’s a big step in the right direction in terms of democracy.”
Early in person voting may have cost as much as $60 million, though a final price tag hasn’t been calculated. A lot of that money was a one-time cost for new technology such as electronic poll books and touchscreen voting machines that can display the ballot specific to each voter’s neighborhood.
Secretary of State Tahesha Way said early voting may grow in the future, similar to how vote-by-mail had become more popular.
“Success is really affording voters all options to participate in democracy and of course to modernize our election infrastructure,” Way said.
Mail-in ballots had not been received as of Sunday from around 461,000 people who had requested them – mostly, people who have signed up over the last three years to receive mail-in ballots for all future elections.
Some of those ballots might have been received Monday or are in the mail already. But Way said anybody who still intends to vote using a mail-in ballot should use an official drop box by 8 p.m. Tuesday or at their county board of elections office and not rely on the U.S. Postal Service to get it delivered by the Nov. 9 deadline for receiving ballots that were postmarked by Nov. 2.
“You cannot, however, return your ballot to your local polling place” on Tuesday, Way said. “Poll workers there will not be able to accept your completed ballot and cannot be responsible for it.”
People who didn’t receive a requested mail-in ballot or lost it can vote at their regular polling place Tuesday, though they will vote via a provisional paper ballot. That ballot is counted after a one-week wait to make sure a person didn’t also mail in a ballot.
Registered Democrats have cast more than 58% of the early ballots, outnumbering Republicans everywhere except Cape May County. About 23% of the early votes have been cast by Republicans, about 19% by voters not affiliated with a party and 0.3% affiliated with one of the minor parties.
Monmouth County had the highest share of early, in-person voters, as 6.5% of registered voters – or 31,835 out of nearly 492,000 – took advantage of the new program.
Four other counties were also over 4% of their potential electorate: Cape May, Hunterdon, Somerset and Ocean counties.
Camden County had the smallest share of early, in-person voters, as the 3,391 who voted that way accounted for only 0.8% of registered voters. However, Camden County – as it usually does – has had the highest participation in vote-by-mail, so far, 14.6% of registered voters.
The other counties in which fewer than 3% of eligible voters cast early in-person ballots were Bergen, Cumberland, Middlesex, Salem, Essex, Sussex and Union.
Only two counties besides Camden have seen at least 10% of registered voters cast vote-by-mail ballots so far: Middlesex and Mercer.
The smallest vote-by-mail participation rates have been in Hudson (4%), Passaic (4.4%) and Essex (5.2%) counties.
Turnout so far, combining mail and early in-person voting, is highest in Camden County at 15.4%, followed by Cape May, Hunterdon and Somerset counties at 14.1%. It is 8% or less in northeast New Jersey – Passaic, Hudson, Essex and Bergen counties.
Middlesex County has recorded the largest number of votes, 74,169, followed by Monmouth, Camden, Bergen and Ocean. The combined votes from the six smallest counties – Salem, Cumberland, Warren, Sussex, Cape May and Hunterdon – are fewer than Camden, Middlesex or Monmouth alone.
Slightly more early votes may have been cast, as the state’s reports don’t include data about the number of people who may have voted early by provisional paper ballots, which won’t be counted until a week after Election Day. That data hasn’t been forwarded by counties to the state.
Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.