Beyond Poll Working: How to Assist the Mail-in Voting Process

Contributed by Michelle Harris.

Among other responsibilities related to the operation of district polling places on election day, the Board of Elections is responsible for the hiring, education and assignment of approximately 500 poll workers. Due to health safety concerns related to the ongoing pandemic, the number of polling stations open this year for in-person voting will be reduced. In turn, fewer traditional poll worker positions will need to be staffed. This reduction in election day staffing combined with the return of a robust number of experienced poll workers and high interest already expressed by new applicants, the Board of Elections stopped accepting Poll Worker applications as of September 1, 2020. 

If you have already submitted an application but have not heard back yet, you may still as specific activity staffing is ongoing and late day substitutes are sometimes called on to backfill for people who have conflicts arise and need to bow out. Also be prepared for the possibility that Board staff may call indicating that traditional roles are filled and asking you to consider filling an alternate role. Keep an open mind as these roles are great ways to support voting operations and gain a unique view into the process from the inside. Two examples of these opportunities:

  • Ballot strippers are particularly in-demand during an election year with record numbers of mail-in ballots expected. Strippers are handed trays of ballots that have already been removed from the outer envelopes. Their sole task is to tear off the signed flap on the inner envelope, taking care to arrange the two newly separated parts in identical order. If you are an organizer, piler, tick-and-tier by nature, this role is for you. 
  • Runners hand carry trays of ballots from one step in the mail-in ballot processing queue to another including, for example, taking the “stripped” inner envelopes from the stripping room to another room where the inner envelopes are opened and the ballots are scanned. Especially in comparison to ballot strippers and other roles, runners are quite literally marathoners. And did I mention that stairs – many stairs – are involved? Supporting the election process and getting in a good workout… surely that is a win-win. 

It also remains a possibility that additional hands may be required for opening outer envelopes and separating outer from inner envelopes prior to election day. Passage of New Jersey Senate bill S-2819 would allow New Jersey counties to start this mail-in ballots process up to five days before the election. This measure, one of several that lawmakers are considering to make sure that votes count, would help to count the large number of anticipated mail-in ballots in a timely manner.  

Every Vote Matters, But Only If It Can Be Counted

If working the polls is not your gig, or opportunities with the county are all filled for this election, you can support the election process by making sure that your mail-in vote counts: 

  1. Machine voting (remember that?) prevents a voter from selecting too many candidates for a particular office. For example, if two candidates are running against each other for office, the voting machine prevents the voter from selecting both candidates. If a mail-in voter chooses two candidates for a single office, neither vote can be counted. Read the instructions for each question carefully and select only the number of candidates allowed to be chosen for each office. 
  1. All mail-in ballot signatures are verified against those in records at the Board of Elections. Signatures on file may have come from a paper voter registration form, the NJ Motor Vehicles Commission, party change forms or other forms completed in the course of doing business with the County Clerk’s office. Signatures change over time. The signature on your ballot must reasonably match the one on file with the County. If you are not certain which signature is on file for you, you may contact the Board of Elections for guidance on how to confirm your signature.
  1. Remember to sign the inner ballot envelope. If a ballot arrives with no signature, or if the County Clerk identifies a concern or question about the signature that they have on file for you, the ballot will be set aside and the Board of Elections will mail the voter a Signature Cure Form in an attempt to obtain verifiable signature. If the completed Signature Cure Form is not received by the Board of Elections by the deadline identified by the county, the vote cannot be counted. 
  1. Do not use your mail-in ballot as a coffee coaster or in lieu of a post-it. Stains, tears or stray marks outside of the areas where you are instructed to complete or sign could disqualify it. Return your ballot in clean crisp condition to ensure that it can be counted. 
  1. If you make an error while completing your ballot, ask our local election officials what to do. Rather than have you fix the original ballot, they may advise you to start with a new ballot and help you to get one. 
  1. Finally, before mailing your ballot or dropping it off at one of twelve (12) vote-by-mail drop boxes located throughout Hunterdon County, check and double check that put your ballot in the inner envelope, then the inner envelope in the outer envelope. The Board of Elections staff can’t count votes that they don’t receive. 

In the coming weeks, the Hunterdon County Clerk is sending postcards to better engage and inform those who may not be click-savvy, engaged in social media, or have access to online information regarding the election and voting process. If you are confident that you are informed and well-prepared to cast your own ballot, you can support the county’s efforts to spread the word and help ensure that an even wider circle successfully engages in the voting process. Make your know-how available to others. Support the vote, get out the vote, and vote (once ;-))!

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