Numerous requests for email ballots went unanswered by county offices

NEWARK – Displaced New Jersey residents who attempted to obtain a ballot through email or fax, but were not successful on Election Day, will still be able to cast their votes until Friday. Superior Court Judge Walter Koprowski in Essex County signed an order stating that voters who provide proof that they attempted to receive a ballot on Nov. 6, but did not receive one, will still have their vote counted.

The order, which was signed on Nov. 7, states that county clerks statewide must continue to accept and process applications for ballots, as long as the displaced voter provides proof that he or she made an attempt to receive a ballot on Election Day. Voters who tried to vote before 5 p.m. on Nov. 6 unsuccessfully and still wish to cast a ballot must contact their county clerk before noon Friday, Nov. 9. They must also provide proof of an attempt such as a bounced email message or a fax transmission statement showing that the fax did not go through to their county clerk.

The ACLU-NJ recommends voters contact their county clerks right away in order to meet Friday’s noon deadline.

The order was issued after the ACLU-NJ filed a petition asking the court to intervene based on complaints from many displaced voters who said they could not obtain ballots from county election offices, many of which were overwhelmed with the volume of requests.

On Nov. 3, in response to the storm, Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno issued a directive that called for voters displaced by the storm to be treated as if they were overseas residents, who are allowed to vote by fax or email. The ACLU-NJ and other voter protection advocates praised the state for taking steps to make sure their votes would be counted. But on Election Day, the ACLU-NJ received a number of complaints from voters who said they tried to obtain a ballot through fax or email but heard no response.

“My husband and I have contacted the Essex County Clerk’s office via email, phone and online in order to vote via email. We have not heard back from them after numerous attempts,” said Tricia Figgins, an Essex County voter who was forced to temporarily move to New York. “The gas shortage complicates the issue, because we cannot use gas to drive two hours to our local polling place.”

After hearing complaints similar to those expressed by Figgins, the Lieutenant Governor issued another directive on Tuesday extending the time within which displaced voters could obtain and cast ballots to Friday, Nov. 9, as long as the request for that ballot was received by the county clerk by 5 p.m. on Election Day. However, the state’s directive did not explicitly account for individuals who attempted to contact their county clerks’ offices unsuccessfully due to the high volume of requests received.

The ACLU-NJ went to court on behalf of Figgins as well as two other voters: Abigail Jones, a resident of Maplewood displaced by the hurricane to Pennsylvania, and Barbara Ertel, a South Orange resident displaced by the storm who took refuge in Delaware.

The ACLU-NJ petitioned the judge to intervene and asked the court to allow displaced voters to vote by using the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, which is also used by members of the military serving overseas and other overseas U.S. citizens who cannot obtain a ballot. The judge denied that request.

“While we did not obtain the remedy we thought most capable of protecting voters’ rights, the judge in our case did order that the state hold firm to its commitment to afford the right to vote to all voters who were displaced by Hurricane Sandy,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Alexander Shalom. “The judge’s order attempts to protect the rights of displaced voters who tried in vain this Election Day to obtain a ballot.”

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