By: Brianna Mashel
On August 14th, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order mandating all approximately 6.3 million registered voters to automatically receive mail-in ballots. After he announced the order, the governor exclaimed, “Everybody gets a ballot!”
Four days after the executive order was signed, however, the Trump campaign, national GOP Committee, and state GOP Committee launched a suit accusing Governor Murphy of usurping the state legislature’s authority to regulate elections and creating “a recipe for disaster” with respect to invalid voting. Almost a month later, on September 16th, Governor Murphy and his administration found themselves in a New Jersey Federal Court arguing against a preliminary injunction that would block this proposed expansion of mail-in voting.
The Trump campaign’s concerns have put a spotlight on a recent special election in Patterson, New Jersey. In late June, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal charged Paterson City Councilman Michael Jackson, Councilman-elect Alex Mendez and two other men with voter fraud and other crimes. Immediately after the charges were announced, President Trump tweeted, “Mail-In Voting, on the other hand, will lead to the most corrupt Election is USA history. Bad things happen with Mail-Ins. Just look at Special Election in Patterson, N.J. 19% of Ballots a FRAUD!”
The special election in Paterson was conducted exclusively by mail-in voting because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The investigation into this local election started after the U.S. Postal Inspection Service tipped off state law enforcement officials to hundreds of mail-in ballots stuffed in a Paterson mailbox. In New Jersey, voters must mail or submit their mail-in ballots themselves unless they certify a “bearer” to do it on their behalf. A bearer can collect ballots for no more than three voters in an election and a candidate in the election cannot serve as a bearer. City Councilman Jackson and Councilman-elect Mendez, who was a candidate in the election, were caught with more than three mail-in ballots each. Ultimately, because of this fraudulent behavior, a judge invalidated the election and ordered a new one. The Trump campaign and Republicans have grasped onto the election problems in Paterson as they argue against the vote-by-mail plan from Governor Murphy.
Some of President Trump’s critics say that this apparent aversion to mail-in voting is nothing more than an attempt to undermine election results. Although it is true that corruption occurred in a local New Jersey election conducted by mail, this does not indicate that vote by mail automatically results in fraud. In fact, those in opposition with President Trump believe it shows the exact opposite. If voter fraud was instantaneously detected in one local election, critics ponder, imagine how difficult it would be to get away with widespread voter fraud during the Presidential Election.
Despite the impending lawsuit and President Trump’s protest, mail-in ballots have started to go out throughout New Jersey. In fact, the Trump campaign’s lawsuit has been moving so slowly it is likely to do nothing at all. New Jersey county clerks must send voter mail-in ballots by October 5, 2020. If the lawsuit continues at its current pace, millions of New Jersey voters will have received, and possibly submitted, their mail-in ballots by the time the arguments get heard. Meaning, against the Trump campaign’s wishes, mail-in ballots will likely be the principal method of voting in New Jersey for the November election.
As a result, like many other states, New Jersey will embark for the first time on an election conducted primarily with vote by mail ballots. In addition to vote by mail, polling locations will be available in every municipality and each county will operate at least 50% of its normal polling location capacity. It remains to be seen if President Trump’s prediction of widespread voter fraud will come to fruition.