Number of vote-by-mail ballots in NJ this year could break records
Hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents will cast their vote for president this year without even stepping foot into a polling place.
Election offices across the state are handling tray-loads of mail-in ballots on a daily basis. The ballots are sent in by Garden State voters who can't get out Tuesday, or just don't want to — the law allows absentee or mail-in voting for any reason.
And the latest update from New Jersey counties suggests this election could result in the most votes by mail in state history.
As of early Thursday evening, according to Middlesex County Board of Elections Administrator Jim Vokral, the county received approximately 32,000 mail-in ballots from residents. That's compared to the 18,400 in the 2012 presidential election. And ballots can still be received up until 8 p.m. Tuesday.
"We have been working from 7:30 until 9-10 o'clock for several weeks, trying to process all of this so they're ready to be opened on Election Day," Vokral said.
By law, the ballots cannot be counted until Tuesday.
The staff will begin the process of tallying mail-in ballots at 6 a.m. in Union County, where more than 13,000 have already been received. According to Board of Elections Administrator Dennis Kobitz, that breaks their record by a few thousand.
Kobitz noted a couple thousand residents are signed up to automatically receive a mail-in ballot ahead of each November.
And while the Nov. 1 deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot has already come and gone, they're still being distributed at all county clerk offices through Monday.
"It's so busy in here right now; you couldn't believe it," said Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami-Covello. "We have lines of people that are coming in to pick up their ballots and vote."
As of 4 p.m. Thursday, nearly 11,000 mail-in ballots had been returned to Mercer County officials. Sollami-Covello believes the county will match, if not surpass, the 2012 haul of 12,586.
"We're having extended hours over the weekend, and I know many counties are as well," she said.
In Bergen County, clerk office employees are cross-trained to accommodate the rush ahead of Election Day, according to Deputy County Clerk Lauren Zyriek.
"There have been some long nights, but we need to be able to make sure that every voter gets the opportunity to vote," Zyriek said.
In 2012, the office distributed 35,000 mail-in ballots, compared to 41,000 this year. About 26,000 have been returned.
According to the state Division of Elections, 283,590 votes by mail were cast in the 2012 general election, up from 243,623 in 2008.
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