In the first year of early in-person voting in New Jersey, 207,863 residents took advantage of the nine-day window prior to Election Day where voters could cast ballots on machines at centralized polling sites within their counties, state officials said Monday, the day after the early voting period closed.
That’s about 3.2% of the state’s more than than 6.5 million registered voters who visited one of the 139 early voting locations. The state has also received 495,000 votes by mail as of Sunday.
While that’s short of the expectations laid out by a Monmouth University poll last month that indicated 6% of New Jersey voters planned to vote in-person ahead of Election Day, the results are not a surprise, said Ariel Alvarez, associate professor at Montclair State University’s department of political science and law.
“I thought all along that early voting would be helpful to the people that are already well engaged in voting, but I did not think that it would have an impact on the folks that historically do not vote,” Alvarez said.
“In terms of political attractiveness and political expediency, it was something good for Governor [Phil] Murphy. I think that for him was a political move, more than it was a move to really, really have an impact on voter turnout,” he said. “At the end of the day, I don’t really think it mattered.”
Monmouth County had the highest rate of early-in person turnout, with more than 6% of its registered voters casting ballots that way. The county had the highest rate of turnout for each day of early voting. Monmouth Clerk Christine Hanlon credited her county’s robust education campaign. The county sent postcards to voters, took out newspaper ads, wrote letters to the editor, posted on social media and handed out brochures to educate voters on the new option.
Ocean County came in second for the proportion of registered voters casting ballots at early voting sites, with slightly more than 4%. County Clerk Scott Colabella told NJ Advance Media his county also made a big push to put out educational material about early voting, even creating a step-by-step video that walks voters through the process.
“It did work and the voters seem receptive” he said.
The state’s Division of Elections ran a $1 million campaign, buying ads on radio, television, digital, billboards and in print to educate voters on the three voting options. The division also supplied counties with content for public service announcements. In all, the campaign reached more than 126 million sets of eyes and ears, according to state data.
Regardless of turnout, state election officials declared it a success and a starting point for future elections.
“The voters had more options than they’ve ever had before to participate in democracy, particularly to vote on a machine,” said Alicia D’Alessandro, communications director for the Division of Elections. “It used to be that you could go and vote in person on a machine just one day, Election Day. Now we have 10 days, including Election Day — that’s what matters to us.”
”We don’t have a preference on how people choose to participate. Our job is to make sure that we are facilitating that participation,” D’Alessandro said.
Secretary of State Tahesha Way echoed that sentiment during a press conference Monday, stating that “success is really affording voters all options to participate in democracy and, of course, to modernize our election infrastructure. You look at vote by mail when it first arrived in New Jersey, and you look at how it has increased throughout the years, and you know, that may be true in terms of how early voting is also going to be.”
The race for the governor’s office between incumbent Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli tops the ticket this year. Both voted at early in-person locations.
Asked about whether the expenditure of more than $60 million to get early voting up and running was worth it, Murphy said yes Monday.
“We’ve never done this before, so we always knew this was going to be the beginning of a journey. This is absolutely the right step to take and I’m incredibly happy we’ve taken it,” he said.
“If you said to me 207,000 early in-person votes over nine days — I think that’s a terrific result. And that’s alongside just under 500,000 votes by mail. So you’ve got basically 700,000 votes that have been cast. I think that’s a really big step in the right direction in terms of democracy,” Murphy said.
Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
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