New Jersey voters will for the first time cast their ballots for president predominantly by mail in November.
Gov. Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat, announced Friday that the upcoming general election would be conducted using mostly mail-in ballots to ensure voters’ and poll workers’ safety during the pandemic.
The governor, citing the success of the state’s predominantly vote-by-mail primary election last month, said all 6.3 million New Jersey voters would be sent ballots to return either by mail or to deposit in secure drop boxes.
“It doesn’t matter what party you’re in — everybody gets a ballot,” Mr. Murphy said Friday morning on CNN.
He said the state would build on the lessons learned during the July 7 primary, the first broad test of voting by mail in New Jersey. The state, for example, will expand the number of secure locations for in-person delivery of ballots and add more polling places where voters can complete provisional ballots on Election Day.
“We’re going to have more presence of secure drop boxes,” he said. “Make sure there is that physical in-voting capacity.”
New Jersey joins a growing number of states that have shifted to mail-in ballots to minimize the risks posed by the coronavirus, even as President Trump continues to sow doubt, claiming without evidence that the process is plagued by fraud. Voters in at least eight other states and Washington, D.C. — an estimated 38 million people — also are being mailed ballots to cast votes in November.
In addition to the presidential contest, voters in New Jersey will be deciding whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana after legislative initiatives failed.
They will also be voting on several hotly contested congressional races, including a battle in South Jersey between Representative Jeff Van Drew, a turncoat Democrat who voted against the president’s impeachment before pledging loyalty to Mr. Trump, and Amy Kennedy, a former teacher who is married to Patrick Kennedy, a nephew of President John F. Kennedy.
Elected officials in at least one of New Jersey’s 21 counties, Warren County, have already expressed opposition to relying nearly entirely on mail-in ballots in November.
A May special election for Paterson City Council, conducted using mail voting at the height of the pandemic, led the state attorney general to charge four men with ballot fraud. They were accused of fraudulently collecting groups of ballots and delivering them to be counted. Mr. Trump referred to the Paterson arrests on Twitter.
Amber McReynolds, chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute, applauded New Jersey’s initiative to expand access to voting. But she said she had urged the state to implement an electronic ballot tracking system to increase voters’ trust in the process as well as provide opportunities for them to troubleshoot before Election Day.
For example, if a voter’s signature was being challenged, the person would be alerted while there was still time to cure the problem.
“Just like tracking an Amazon package,” she said, “you can see where your ballot is at every moment.”
New Jersey’s vote-by-mail primary election was not trouble free.
County clerks complained about supply-chain shortages of envelopes. Some voters got the wrong ballots; other ballots never reached voters. A glitch involving a bar code caused some ballots to be returned in the mail before being counted.
An aide to Mr. Murphy said the governor had had high-level conversations with representatives of the Postal Service to try to safeguard against similar problems leading up to the Nov. 3 election.
There was also a lag time in collecting and counting the primary mail-in ballots that only needed to be postmarked by July 7, and the official results of all the races were not certified until last week. Still, the winners of most races were clear within hours or days, much sooner than some people had anticipated.
Ms. Kennedy’s most formidable Democratic primary opponent, Brigid Callahan Harrison, conceded the race about 20 minutes after provisional ballot locations closed.
Elizabeth Matto, director of Rutgers University’s Center for Youth Political Participation, said it would be crucial for New Jersey and other states that are relying heavily on mail-in ballots to invest in “extensive, accurate, nonpartisan” voter education, especially in areas hardest hit by Covid-19.
“People shouldn’t have to chose between voting and their health,” Professor Matto said.
But she said it would also be important to provide ample in-person voting options, especially in a presidential election when turning out to the polls can be a point of pride.
“You want to go get the sticker,” she said. “You want to take your kids into the voting booth.”
But the success of New Jersey’s shift to a predominantly mail-in election will depend on persuading voters to avoid long lines — and an increased risk of spreading the virus — at locations where voters can cast provisional ballots on Election Day.
Mr. Trump has assailed the Postal Service in recent months, growing increasingly critical of mail-in voting and issuing repeated warnings about the possibility of election fraud.
On Thursday, he repeated an unfounded claim that the election could be rife with fraud if mail ballots were widely used. And he made clear that he opposed Democratic demands for additional funding for the post office to ensure it had the capacity to efficiently process an increased volume of mail.
The comments came amid growing scrutiny of the postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, a Republican donor.
The issue has also become grist in fund-raising appeals to Democrats. In a fund-raising email, a group founded by Democratic members of the House of Representative’s Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Go for Broke for Vets, asserts that the president and his allies are trying to “undercut, under fund” and weaken the Postal Service, one of the nation’s largest employers of veterans.