The first go-around for all mail-in ballots exposed several issues that could disenfranchise voters if not fixed before the November elections, the chair of Atlantic County’s Board of Elections warned in a letter to the state.
Lynn Caterson addressed “some very serious problems which occurred in Atlantic County during the recent Primary Election with regard to the Mail-in-Ballot system” in a letter she sent to the governor and secretary of state on Friday.
These issues should be addressed before the General Election, she said.
The move to an all mail-in system concerned many voters. Caterson’s letter validates some of those concerns.
Caterson raised issues with signature review, postal delivery of election materials, the short deadlines and how records are kept and updated.
There needs to be better coordination between the state Motor Vehicle Commission, the Voter Registration System and the U.S. Postal Service to resolve the issues, she said.
She stressed that the letter was written on her behalf and did not represent the full board.
Sign on the dotted… pad?
Caterson notes that those who register through the Motor Vehicle Commission sign their names on a pad using their finger.
“The resulting mark looks nothing like their true signature, yet this is what the Board of Elections must use to compare to the voter’s signature on the (mail in ballot),” she wrote.
As a result, many voters were sent a “cure” letter that allows voters to remedy the situation by mailing back proof that it is their signature.
But only about 60 percent of those in the county who were sent these letters returned them, Caterson wrote.
Many registered voters also have several signatures attached to their name, with it taking about 13 clicks of the computer mouse to print just one.
A program that would allow workers to pull up and print all signatures for a voter at one time with less clicks would not only save staff time, but would give the board every possibility to find a signature match without needing a “cure” letter, she suggested.
Your ballot is (eventually) in the mail
Currently, mail-in ballots require an extra step when sent back to the Board of Elections.
They go from the local post office to a central location and then to the board.
This unnecessary middle step adds to the delivery time and increases the potential for issues, Caterson said.
She said the U.S. Postal Service needs to change this procedure, sending straight to the Board of Elections post office.
Additionally, many voters reported that they never received their mail-in ballots.
One Egg Harbor Township resident was told that hers was initially sent to Lancaster, Pa.
There were other cases where the wrong bar code was scanned sending the ballot back to the voter rather than to the Board of Elections.
Not only does that increase the time, but it also costs taxpayers double, Caterson said, noting that the prepaid postage is charged once when the ballot is mailed back to the voter and a second time when it’s re-sent to the board.
She also said that not all ballots received at the post office on Election Day were postmarked with that date.
Updating, accessing records
Updating voter records was also made difficult as the state voter registration system was “refusing” to record needed information, including apartment numbers, corrected party affiliations and proper spelling of names, Caterson said.
“This has led to disenfranchising voters,” she wrote.
The system also was unable to handle several entities accessing them at the same time, causing repeated crashes.
“Modifications need to be made so that the system can handle hundreds of people using it as the same time,” Caterson wrote.
Deadlines need the input of New Jersey State Association of Election Officials members who understand the process, she said.
Instead of shortening the time before the election ballots are to be mailed out — which is 45 days in the statute — it should be extended to 60 days due to the sheer volume, Caterson suggested.
In the general election this would have the ballots mailed out the first week in September.
The July 23 deadline for the primary election did not allow enough time for turnaround for those who received “cure” letters.
In fact, she noted, many military personnel likely didn’t even receive their “cure” letters before the deadline.
Caterson said in the letter that she would be available to meet with their representatives and provide more specific details “as to what went wrong in the primary election and how we can work together so as to not disenfranchise voters.”