Election officials say they’re ready for just about anything this primary after dealing with the challenges thrown up in recent years, first with the coronavirus pandemic and then with the accelerated rollout of early voting in New Jersey.
“They threw a lot of curveballs at us,” Passaic County Clerk Danielle Ireland-Imhof said.
Ireland-Imhof is among half a dozen election officials interviewed by NJ Advance Media ahead of the June 7 primary who said their counties are prioritizing training, education and transparency in order to avoid the technological problems and long queues that plagued the general election. to fall. Whether voters will actually make it to the primary — in which voters will weigh in on the midterm congressional races and about 100 contested county and city races — and test their preparations, remains to be seen. In the last midterm primary in 2018, only 11% of registered voters voted and that figure was even lower at 6.6% in 2014.
That’s why one of Ireland-Imhoff’s top priorities in this election, and every election, is to educate the voter base – because “voters need to know that every election matters, not just the general election. of November,” she said.
“I really want to encourage voters to say that this election is also important. It is important that every opportunity given to a voter to make their voice heard through their vote, that they take that opportunity – not just once a year but every time throughout the year that there is an election available to vote,” Ireland-Imhoff said.
Bergen County Clerk John Hogan said his office is also focused on increasing voter turnout. Only 40% of eligible voters cast ballots in New Jersey’s 2021 election, making it one of the lowest turnouts for a Garden State gubernatorial race in the past century.
For the first time last fall, voters had a new way to vote by early voting, but only about 3.2% of the state’s more than 6.5 million registered voters participated.
Some of the new equipment used in the process caused problems, including new electronic poll books which were used instead of paper registers to record in real time who voted and verify eligibility. In a number of polling places, poll workers had problems connecting via the internet to the state database, leading to long lines at some locations and even diverted voters from others. .
Somerset County purchased new voting machines for early voting and had some issues with the rollout. In Bernardsville, for example, a voter complained that the system had failed and voters had been turned away. In Hillsborough, another voter said people queuing finally left.
“We have worked with the vendor who provides the electronic poll books to resolve any issues that arose during our initial use of them in 2021, and all staff who will be using them in primary are fully trained in the use of the books. ballot,” said Somerset County spokesman Nathan Rudy.
“We prepare for each election to minimize any potential issues that may arise and to be ready to quickly resolve anything that may,” he said.
The introduction of electronic poll books has also created some “confusion and difficulty” with Mercer County election officials, Clerk Paula Covello said.
Covello said the county lost a lot of election workers as a result, “because they didn’t feel comfortable with the new technology or wanted to learn the new technology.”
There is always a need for poll workers, Covello said, but the demand is even higher this year to make up for that loss.
To address the shortage of election workers, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation in March to raise election worker wages from $200 to $300 a day. The wage hike is expected to cost the state about $7 million. The state pays each worker $225 a day while county election commissions cover the balance. Those interested in working can visit their respective county’s website to learn more and apply.
Despite the staff shortage, Covello said it isn’t overly concerned about having enough workers as it anticipates low turnout given the lack of contested races.
This year, the Bergen County Clerk’s Office also launched a new tab on its website for “Election Integrity and Transparencyin an effort to combat a rise in misinformation, said Bergen County Electoral Division Supervisor Sabrina Taranto.
The website aims to educate voters about the electoral process, including how votes are counted and how vote totals are updated after the polls close so that there are no confusion about the results like last year. The website also provides advice on how to spot “fake news” and a direct link to a live stream where the public can watch the votes counted on Election Day.
“We have no problem explaining the process to every caller,” Taranto said. “But we wanted to do our part to make sure the process is there and people know what to look out for.”
Early in-person voting runs June 3-5. Hours are Friday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Voters can vote at any polling place in their county – but only in their county . You can also vote in person at your polling station from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on election day. Polling locations will be posted on the State Division of Elections website – vote.nj.gov.
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Jackie Roman can be contacted at email@example.com and on Twitter at @byJackieRoman.