New Jersey gets ballot-tracking only half right

Two months before the November 2020 election, I wrote about New Jersey’s plans for an almost-all-vote-by-mail election. What I was told by one county’s Administrator of Elections was,

New this year is ballot tracking offered on the NJ Division of Elections’ website.  The tracking numbers are not USPS tracking–they can’t tell you where inside the U.S. mail your ballot is–but the tracking system can tell the voter:  when the County Clerk cleared the absentee ballot for mailing to the voter; when it was received back from the voter by the BoE; whether the ballot was accepted or not. 

(September 12, 2020)

This makes a lot of sense. The voter would like to know whether their signature was accepted–or whether they forgot to sign it at all–so they can “cure” their ballot, or vote in person with a provisional ballot. The tracking system allows voters to look this up online. (The outer ballot-return envelope is preprinted with a bar code identifying the voter, so even if the voter forgot the inner envelope or improperly removed the “DO NOT REMOVE” certificate from the inner envelope, the tracking system has this information for the voter.)

Unfortunately, the State Division of Elections disabled this important feature of the tracking system. When I log in to track-my-ballot, the following message appears:

Due to historically high volume, ballots deposited in Secure Ballot Drop Box locations may take up to one week to show up as “Received” and Ballots sent via US Mail may take up to two weeks to show up as “Received” in the Track My Ballot tool.

Ballot status information (i.e. – received, etc.) is provided by the counties via an automated process. The amount of time it takes until updates post to the Track My Ballot tool may vary from county to county. A voter’s ballot status won’t be changed to “Accepted” or “Rejected” until after the certification of the Election, on November 20th. Please check back periodically for updates to your ballot status.

(viewed November 10, 2020)

The first paragraph–a delay in processing the signatures at local elections offices–is forgivable this year. But the second paragraph–intentionally withholding information from the voters until it’s too late about whether their ballot was accepted–is a deliberate policy decision by New Jersey Division of Elections, and it’s the wrong decision. It makes the tracking system practically useless to the voter.

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Author: Andrew Appel