The state’s new vote-by-mail ballot has proven pretty popular in Union County this election season.
With three weeks left before the November election, Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi says that the new ballots are pouring into her office in great numbers.
"In past years we didn't really start receiving absentee ballots until the second week in October," Rajoppi said. "We've processed over 4,000 mail-in ballots so far, and I expect many more."
A new law signed off on by Gov. Corzine in June allows New Jersey residents to vote by mail for every election over the course of a year by filling out one application. The law got rid of the civilian and military absentee ballots used in the past.
Now, any New Jersey resident who is a registered voter can use a mail-in ballot to vote in any election. No special reason is needed.
Rajoppi says that there's been a great interest in the new ballot since it was first introduced.
"I think it's the ease of the mail-in ballot, people like the idea of voting from home, for absolutely no reason other than that they've done their duty," she said.
The gubernatorial election this year has only further spurred that interest, Rajoppi said.
New Jersey is one of a handful of states to implement this type of vote-by-mail ballot. The move is similar to the system Oregon adopted in the 1980s before deciding to move to an entirely statewide vote-by-mail system in 1998.
According to Don Hamilton, the communications director for Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, the Beaver State has seen an increase in local election turnout since the move to vote-by-mail elections. He said the local races, many of which are held when presidential and gubernatorial races are not being held, have attracted more turnout from vote-by-mail due to the low-profile nature of the elections. The idea of a ballot coming to a person's home and not having to go to a polling place has made people tune into these races.
"In a small election that gets a lot of attention, vote-by-mail is easier," Hamilton said. "Voting by mail fits a contemporary lifestyle more than going to a polling place."
Making it easier to vote has also changed the campaign landscape in some instances, with candidates taking advantage of the new system by handing out vote-by-mail ballot applications to constituents when going door-to-door.
While Scotch Plains Councilman Dominick Bratti says he has not been handing out the applications as part of his re-election campaign, he says he has been telling those who will be out of town about the option.
Still, Bratti says he favors the old-fashioned way of voting.
“Personally, I still prefer the Ballot Booth option, which I think provides the necessary security, and protection against possible abuse,” he said in an e-mail.
According to the Union County Clerk’s Web site, the new ballot is designed and formatted to stop questionable election results because of partial or hanging chads open to errors. The new ballot is read "optically" by a scanner and less apt to make an error.
Rajoppi says her office has worked to explain the process to voters as much as possible. Instructions on how to fill out the ballot, including a detailed video, are available on her office's Web site.
“I refer people to all the documents that can be downloaded,” she said.
Among the most common mistakes made so far, she said, are people forgetting to sign the application, which holds up the process.
Those who are interested in the vote-by-mail ballot have up until 7 days before the election to apply for one, or until 3 p.m. the day prior to the election to apply in person.
Applications can be requested by calling the clerk’s office at (908) 527-4360, or by mailing a written request to Joanne Rajoppi, Union County Clerk, 2 Broad Street, Room 113, Elizabeth, NJ 07201-2299.
The form can also be downloaded off the clerk's Web site, or you can pick one up in person at her office.
Remember, Tuesday, Oct. 13, is the last day to register to vote in the state of New Jersey.
Editor's Note: A previous report by Patch editor John Celock contributed to this story.