Mercer County Elections 9-9-2020 Meeting
Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020
Zoom meeting between Mercer County Elections Officials and four LWV chapters of Mercer County: Hopewell Valley, East Windsor- Hightstown, Lawrence, and Princeton Area.
On the call:
Paula Sollami Covello, Mercer County Clerk
Anthony Francioso, Chair, Mercer Board of Elections
Catherine DiCostanzo, Mercer County Superintendent of Elections
Joann Held, LWV of Hopewell Valley
Kit Murdock, LWV of East Windsor-Hightstown
Laura Zurflug, LWV of East Windsor-Hightstown
Nicole Plett, LWV of Lawrence Township
Ellen Maak, LWV of Lawrence Township
Sandy Smith, LWV of Princeton Area
Introductions by all. Joann: Thank you all for making time for this meeting. We want to ensure that our Leagues are providing our electorate with correct answers to their questions about the upcoming election. And we want to know how we can work together and be helpful to Mercer's election officials at this time."
Cathy DiCostanzo: Thanks for the opportunity to meet. We're all in this together, and we look forward to working together.
Paula Sollami Covello: Thanks for having me. Great that we can give you information and we trust you to get it into the hands of your members and the public.
1. BALLOT DROP BOXES
How many ballot drop boxes will be located in Mercer County and when will the locations be decided and publicized?
Anthony: Ballot drop boxes fall under the direction of the Board of Elections. As you know, in the primary election there were five in Mercer County, provided by the state, and we spread them out as we could. For the General Election there will be eight additional boxes, purchased by the State of NJ, plus three more provided by the County Clerk's office. So there will be 16 drop boxes in total, with 15 spread throughout the county. (We will have one drop box in reserve in case we're asked to replace one.)
The Board met yesterday to determine locations. This information should be published in the near future. There was a concern last time about correct addresses and GPS for accurate location by voters, so we have to ensure that's correct.
The boxes are under 24-hour surveillance. Delivery expected in late September for installation in the municipalities.
2. WHAT ABOUT THE "TRACK YOUR BALLOT" WEBSITE?
Laura: I am currently not able to sign up to "track my ballot," even with a Voter ID number.
(Joann Held said she does not have a voter ID number and did not know how to find one.
Cathy DiCostanzo replied that she is responding to many, many requests for voter ID numbers. Voter simply emails her with their mailing address and the month and year of their birth and she will respond.)
Anthony: Voter ID issue and tracking ballots is under the purview of the NJ Division of Elections.
Anthony suggests reaching out to the Mercer County Board of Elections for response as to whether any ballot has been received, scanned, and tabulated. Mercer County Board of Elections will have a press release with guidelines that is forthcoming that he will share with the League.
3. POLLING LOCATIONS
When will polling places locations be decided & publicized? How can we help ensure that there are as many polling places open as possible?
Polling locations were decided yesterday at the Board meeting; municipal clerks provided suggestions to the Board of Elections. New guidelines specify that it is mandatory to have 50 percent of polling places open. Traditionally the County has had 142 polling places, so this year we needed a minimum of 71.
Joann: Will voters receive a postcard that lists their polling information?
Paula: Yes, each registered voter will get a postcard (instead of a sample ballot) with their polling place location AND the location of the county drop boxes. Voters can use any ballot drop box they choose.
4. POLL WORKERS
Does the County need to recruit additional poll workers? - YES
Can the League help? - YES, we can help recruit more poll workers for November. Anthony will send us follow-up information and a contact.
What poll worker training is planned? - Training sessions will be through the Board of Elections office and there will be online training, too.
Are Mercer County residents only assigned to Mercer County poll locations? - YES
Trained poll workers will be contacted by the Board of Elections office eventually, but if they want to work the polls on November 3 it wouldn’t hurt to reach out right now.
5. COUNTING BALLOTS
Is Mercer County planning to hire additional staff to help count ballots?
We are receiving requests from volunteers who wish to volunteer to help count the ballots.
Are you accepting volunteers?
Anthony: YES, we absolutely are planning a large number of hires (volunteers) to address counting the ballots, separating the ballots, running through the scanning machine, etc.
Anthony will send us follow-up information and a contact.
Is it correct that Governor's directive will allow you to begin counting Mail-In ballots 10 days before November 3.
Anthony: Yes, but this only means separating the ballot from its envelope and scanning in the ballot. Our office cannot produce reports or provide any results prior to the closing of the polls.
Paula: Technically we can accept mail-in ballots up to 7 days after election day, November 10, if they are postmarked by November 3. But Ballot Drop boxes will be closed at 8 PM on Election Night; a locking mechanism will then be installed so no more ballots can be deposited. However, the additional ballots coming in by mail will be counted.
Ellen: If a voter comes to the polls to deliver their completed mail-in ballot and gets in line by 8 PM on election day, can they stay in line and have their ballot received? -- YES
6. INACTIVE VOTERS
How can the League help notify inactive voters of their voter registration status? What is your process and timeline for cleaning up the voter rolls?
Cathy: Ballots that are returned to us by the post office as undeliverable are switched to "inactive" status. We are getting many inquiries from voters asking why they come up on the website that they're "inactive." These people can activate their voter registration status by providing or updating their current street address. They should check online and if status comes up as inactive, they can activate themselves. An "inactive" voter can also activate themselves at the polls on election day by bringing ID and a utility bill with their address and voting by provisional ballot.
Laura: Can a voter change their address online? Cathy: They should be able to but right now we're having a glitch and you cannot use the change of address function. Cathy adds that 1,000 people have registered online since the September 4 rollout.
Sandy: Do new voters still get a voter registration postcard? Cathy: YES. But we wait until we have a bulk mailing number ready so it may take several weeks to send out.
7. OFFICE HOURS
Will your offices be open for in-person interactions? What will your hours be? Will your offices accept mail-in ballots in person?
Cathy: The building is closed, but we try to be accommodating. We sometimes meet people in the lobby if necessary.
Paula: We do have walk ins by appointment at County Clerk's office. And because we are not requiring Vote by Mail applications this year, we do not have very much foot traffic. We will have extended hours on the Saturday before the election, 9 am to 1 pm. We will also be open late hours on one evening prior to the election. New voters may need to come to pick up their Vote by Mail ballots from us, after September 20th. You can obtain a ballot at county clerk and drop it off at Board of Elections which has a system to drop off and provide a date & time stamp. Please note: The Board of Elections has been moved to 1440 Parkside Avenue, Ewing NJ (near the corner of Olden and Parkside).
8. What if your mail-in-ballot is not delivered to your home by the postal service?
Paula: Contact the County Clerk's office and they will provide a replacement ballot (so that only one ballot will count). Ballots will go out from September 20 to October 5. If you are an active registered voter and your ballot has not been received at your home by October 15, call the County Clerk's Office: 609-989-6494.
9. ELECTION SECURITY MEASURES
Everyone is nervous about this election. Can you share with us some of the security measures that are in place to protect the voter rolls, the ballots, and the counting process?
Paula: There are many safety protocols in place for Mail-In balloting and that is why we have had very few instances of any kind of fraud.
A. Your signature is checked 3 times for security purposes.
B. Additionally, different offices handle the ballots which provides a separation of powers.
C. Every provisional is checked for name, address, signature.
D. Ballot storage vaults can only be open in the presence of one representative of the Democratic party and one Republican party representative.
Cathy: We have a lot of checks and balances in place. All ballots are secured in a vault every night.
We work with Homeland Security. Our machine warehouse is under 24-hour camera surveillance. Code entry is limited. New security procedures have been implemented.
Cathy thinks the three Mercer County elections offices work well together.
Anthony: His office receives most concerns about what has happened to a voter's ballot. Each ballot is received and documented and placed in the storage vault. Interior and exterior camera surveillance maintained 24-hours. The department's outside vendor, Dominion Voter Systems, supervises scanning of ballots and transfer of tallies. Results are delivered to the County Clerk by two commissioners (one from each party). If we receive a damaged ballot, Paula provides an additional ballot: such a ballot can be fixed under supervision.
10. Can you tell us about the recent Ballot Cure Legislation?
Anthony: We send out a Cure letter as required by the Secretary of State so a signature can be corrected. We may have been a bit heavy-handed in sending out the letters for the primary. But this was so that, in the General Election, there will be no question. On the whole, we got good response. Signatures that were cured for the primary will be updated and accepted for the General.
Note: Recent legislation also stipulates that mail-in ballots cannot be rejected because of physical defects that are not the fault of the voter.
11. Any final thoughts?
Cathy: we're also grateful for the assistance that you and your group give to voters.
On security: Not even our staff is allowed to touch the Mail-In ballots.
Paula: Thank you. We want to encourage the use of the drop boxes. We want to make sure every ballot is accepted and counted and avoid going through the U.S. Postal Service. Please vote and deliver your ballot right away. If you go to post office close to election day, be sure that your ballot is postmarked with the day's date.
Anthony: Don't worry about the ballot drop boxes being overfilled. If necessary, we would empty a box more than once a day.