“All of us recognize the importance of this year’s election,” Murphy said in remarks on Friday afternoon. “Ensuring that every voter has the ability to securely cast their ballot, while protecting public health, is our paramount concern. The recent primary election gave us the opportunity to see what worked and where we could make improvements.”
With New Jersey’s announcement, four states and the District of Columbia have so far decided to proactively mail ballots to voters before the November election as a way of protecting public health. Five other states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — already conduct universal mail elections.
As about 20 states have eased or expanded access to mail voting for the fall, Trump and the Republican National Committee have focused their attacks on states where voters will receive ballots in the mail without specifically requesting them, claiming without evidence that the practice will lead to widespread voter fraud.
A Washington Post analysis of three states with universal mail voting found a minuscule number of potentially fraudulent ballots in recent elections, undercutting assertions that such practices open the door to rampant fraud.
Still, election experts note that the mailing of ballots to all voters should be accompanied by rigorous efforts to make sure that voting rolls are accurate and up to date. The issue came into sharp focus in Nevada’s primary this year, when Republicans seized on accounts of loose or attended ballots in apartment buildings in Las Vegas after Clark County sent ballots to all voters.
In New Jersey, all active registered voters will receive mail ballots from their county clerks starting in early October. The ballots will have prepaid return postage. If they are returned through the mail, they must carry a postmark by Nov. 3 and be received no later than 8 p.m. on Nov. 10, one week after the election, to count. If the ballot lacks a postmark because of a Postal Service error, they must be received by 8 p.m. on Nov. 5.
Murphy said he would sign an executive order later Friday to enact the changes.
For the July 7 primary, New Jersey sent mail ballots to registered Democrats and Republicans and mail ballot applications to unaffiliated voters. The state also offered in-person voting options at a capacity of 50 percent, with at least one location in each municipality, Murphy said. The state previously offered no-excuse absentee voting.
“It was a success — not perfect, but overwhelmingly a success,” he told CNN. “So we’re going to announce that we’re going to extend that model into the general election in November. Most important, we’ve learned some lessons.”
Officials plan to make mail voting easier with a handful of changes, including the installation of more secure ballot drop boxes, Murphy said. Amid rising concerns that the Postal Service will not deliver them on time to be counted, many election administrators have highlighted drop boxes as an alternative way of returning ballots.
Kentucky officials on Friday announced their own plans to make voting easier in November, including permitting voters concerned about coronavirus to cast mail ballots without a separate excuse.
The state’s voter ID requirements will be relaxed for both absentee voters and in-person voters who could not obtain photo identification due to the pandemic, according to an announcement from Gov. Andy Beshear (D) and Secretary of State Michael Adams (R). County clerks will offer a more robust process for voters to “cure” problems with absentee ballots to ensure they are counted. And mail ballots will be counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 6.
The plan builds from the state’s successful experiment with wider voting options — including a massive expansion of absentee voting — during its summer primary. Both the governor and secretary of state praised it as an example of effective bipartisan cooperation.
“I don’t really think that this was too much of a negotiation going back and forth,” Beshear said at a news conference Friday afternoon, thanking Adams for “putting ideology on the shelf.” “I think we both wanted a successful election where we could protect people’s health and get what we believe will be one of the larger turnouts we’ve seen because there are so many options to vote.”
Meanwhile, New Jersey’s governor called the politicization of Postal Service “beyond repugnant,” one day after Trump said he was blocking emergency funds for USPS because Democrats are trying to expand mail voting.
“The Postal Service, and its necessary funding, is being turned into a political football by those who simply don’t believe in expanding ballot access. We will not let these political issues disenfranchise voters or suppress anyone’s ability or right to vote,” Murphy said.
As the state prepares for its largest experiment yet in mail voting, Trump has repeatedly cited an episode of alleged fraud this spring in Paterson.
In that case, four men — including a city council member — were charged with fraud after a postal employee discovered 347 mail ballots bundled together in a post office five days before the May election. The county election board ultimately disqualified 19 percent of ballots cast in the race. All four men deny wrongdoing.
Local officials have said Trump’s attacks overstate the risk that a similar situation could unfold nationwide in November. They have also noted that many of the ballots were rejected because of voter errors, not fraud.
But Trump has insisted that Paterson offers an example of the risks of mail balloting.
“It was a massive error and a massive miscalculation, and there was incredible fraud. Look at the city council, what’s happened to it. This is one place, but you have many places, and they’re all over,” he said at the White House on July 14.
Murphy downplayed the Paterson case on Friday, saying there were “very specific issues” involved.
“You never can say you bat 1,000, but I’m pretty sure we have a higher probability of being hit by lightning than we do uncovering voter fraud,” the governor told CNN.
Rosalind Helderman contributed to this report.