April 13 Is Important Voting Cutoff Date in New JerseyLast Chance to Switch Parties Before June 7 Primaries
New Jersey’s 2016 primary elections, both Republican and Democrat, won’t be held until Tuesday, June 7.
Some voters, though, will have to start thinking seriously about which candidate they want to support this very week or risk getting shut out at the polls on June 7.
Wednesday, April 13 is the deadline for New Jersey residents who are affiliated with a political party to switch their party allegiance by filing a party affiliation declaration form with the commissioner of registration/superintendent of elections of their county or their municipal clerk. Ocean County’s commissioner of registration is Wyatt Earp (not the famous gunfighter from the O.K. Corral but the chairman of the Ocean County Democratic Party). Earp’s address is 129 Hooper Ave., P.O. Box 2006, Toms River, N.J. 08754-2167 and his phone number is 732-929-2167. The forms, which can be printed from the web by Googling “New Jersey Political Party Affiliation Declaration Form,” must be delivered in person or by mail, not via fax or email, because an original signature is required.
Unless an already affiliated voter files this form by April 13 he or she won’t be able to switch parties at the polls – a Democrat won’t be able to vote in the GOP primary; a Republican won’t be able to cast a ballot in the Democratic primary.
Normally this deadline wouldn’t be that important. Registered Republicans or Democrats usually vote in their party’s primary. Yet in in many respects, 2016 isn’t a normal year in politics.
If the voting patterns in states that have already held their primaries are any indication, there may be many registered Garden State Democrats who will wish to vote in the Republican primary to support Donald Trump. At the same time, some Democrats may wish to vote in the GOP primary to “stop Trump.” Members of New Jersey’s numerous “third parties” – Conservative, Green, Libertarian, Natural Law Party, Reform Party, U.S. Constitution Party or Socialist Party of New Jersey – who can’t vote in either primary, may decide to switch to a major party so they can participate in the primaries this year. It is easy, for example, to imagine a member of the Green or Socialist parties “feeling the Bern” and wanting to support Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary.
Only voters who are already affiliated with a party have to worry about the April 13 deadline if they want to switch. Independents – registered voters with no party affiliation – can vote in the primary of their choice on June 7, declaring a party affiliation before and even at the polls on primary day. They should realize, however, that if they vote in the Republican primary they will automatically become registered Republicans for the future while people voting in the Democratic primary will be locked into voting in Democratic primaries in the years to come (unless, of course, they file a New Jersey political party affiliation declaration form in the future, changing their party). People who have voted in a party primary in the past should know that they were automatically registered as a Republican or Democrat at that time even if they didn’t fill out a political party affiliation declaration form.
People who haven’t registered to vote at all have until May 17 to do so if they want to vote in the June 7 primaries. They can, but do not have to, declare a party affiliation when registering or can wait until showing up at the polls.
Vote By Mail
Sound confusing? It is. So it is easy to imagine there will be much confusion at the polls throughout New Jersey on June 7, especially if Donald Trump and/or Hillary Clinton haven’t locked up the nomination of their parties by then and a heavy turnout ensues, a turnout liberally sprinkled with totally new voters, voters who haven’t previously voted in primaries or voters who haven’t shown up at the polls for years or even decades.
Ocean County Clerk Scott M. Colabella agrees that many New Jersey voters are in a state of confusion when it comes to the primaries.
“You’re exactly right, a lot of people aren’t aware they can even participate in a primary,” he said.
Colabella, though, had some advice for folks who want to avoid the long lines that could develop at polling places on June 7.
“One thing that has definitely changed in Ocean County is vote by mail,” he said. “You used to need a reason, an excuse, to vote by mail – you would be out of town on Election Day, you were sick. Now you don’t need a reason to vote by mail; anybody can vote by mail. We’ve seen the number of people voting by mail increase for the last four or five years. About 6,000 registered voters so far have applied for vote by mail ballots for this June’s primary elections.”
Voting by mail is certainly easy. You can go online and download an application at oceancountyclerk.com. Open the site, find “ELECTIONS” under the Ocean County Clerk’s Office Service Guide, click on “ELECTIONS” and then on “Election And Voter Info.” Click on “Vote By Mail” and under “Vote by Mail” on the next page you click on “Mail-in form” and print the application. Fill it out and mail it in per instructions and you’ll be all set. Indeed, you can check boxes to automatically have ballots mailed to you for every other election in the year and/or every November general election in the future. Just make sure your application arrives at the Ocean County Clerk’s Office at least seven days before the election.
Colabella said the primary ballots for applications already received will be mailed out on April 23.
You may also pick up, fill out and personally deliver mail-in ballots at the Ocean County Clerk’s Office at 118 Washington St. in Toms River or at the Ocean County Southern Service Center at 179 S. Main St. (Route 9) in Manahawkin. Both offices are open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. In fact, you can apply in person for a mail-in ballot until 3 p.m. the day before the election.
Note, however, that you must be a registered voter to receive a vote by mail ballot.
Different From Other States
Still, no matter how many voters use the vote by mail option, it seems that the polls in New Jersey on June 7 might still be crowded, especially if the Garden State’s winner-take-all Republican primary could put Donald Trump over the magic 1,237-delegate mark to lock in the GOP nomination. And if many a voter is new to the primary process, will long lines take hours to clear?
Jesse Burns, executive director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, isn’t overly concerned.
“After going through Sandy, and working with election officials across the state, I’m not worried,” said Burns.
Superstorm Sandy blew into New Jersey on Oct, 29, 2012. The general election that year was held on Nov. 6, and it was a presidential election. So Garden Staters headed to the polls just over a week after Sandy struck. Yet New Jersey didn’t report any major problems on Election Day.
“I’ve found that county election officials are usually very, very prepared,” said Burns. “Our concern is with the voters.”
New Jersey voters, Burns, said, have been following primary results, and news stories, from other states. So they’ve seen some states with caucuses instead of primaries, others with “open primaries,” meaning Republicans could vote in a Democratic primary and vice versa, and “closed primaries,” where only voters preregistered with one party or the other could participate. New Jersey’s primary system is a hybrid, as explained above – if you’re affiliated with a party you can’t cross over on primary day but if you’re an independent you can pick your party affiliation on the spot.
“People confuse the New Jersey primaries with other states’,” said Burns.
The confusion can lead to anger. Some voters hate the fact that they have to declare themselves Republican or Democrat to vote in a New Jersey primary (this writer is a former poll worker), with a few yelling and even threatening poll workers who won’t let them vote until they declare (“you’re taking away my right to a secret ballot!” or “you’re taking my right to vote away from me because I’m an independent and want to stay an independent!”).
“Sometimes we get calls from people complaining about having to declare party affiliation at the polls,” Burns confirmed.
So news coverage of the primaries in other states can add to the confusion. But there is, as is so often the case, an “on the other hand.”
“The good thing about the national interest is that people are calling us for information,” said Burns.
If you have any questions about voting in New Jersey, be it in the primaries or the general election, call the League of Women Voters of New Jersey at 609-394-3303 or the toll-free voter hotline at 1-800-792-VOTE (8683).