Advocates asked a state court to order a remedy for voters displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic who do not receive a mail-in ballot from New Jersey by October 30 through no fault of their own. The League of Women Voters of New Jersey (LWVNJ) and ACLU-NJ made the request following troubling reports from the primary election that dozens of people did not receive ballots in time to exercise their franchise. Many of these voters were displaced within New Jersey or out-of-state and had made every effort to obtain a ballot at their temporary address.
This suit dovetails with advocacy by LWVNJ, the ACLU-NJ, and their coalition partners to protect the right to vote, strengthen the democratic process, and provide public education about voting rights.
“Every voter, including those who have been displaced, deserves to participate in free and fair elections, and New Jersey has an obligation to do everything in its power to protect that right,” said League of Women Voters of New Jersey Executive Director Jesse Burns. “The state has already taken large-scale efforts to accommodate an extraordinarily challenging election, and ensuring displaced voters receive the ballots they need must be a part of that response to adequately protect the right to vote.”
New Jersey uses electronically delivered ballots for overseas voters and military service members. It has also agreed this method is appropriate for people with disabilities. The suit requests that the state use a similar mechanism for voters who do not receive their ballots by October 30.
“As of now, displaced New Jerseyans have to wait at their mailbox in hopes that the ballot they requested will arrive in time. If it doesn’t, they will be disenfranchised,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. “The state has an obligation to allow voters to exercise their rights, and today we’re asking the Court to ensure they can.”
The lawsuit explains that because COVID-19 and its economic effects have displaced so many people from their homes, obtaining New Jersey’s universally mailed ballots is much more difficult, disenfranchising people who have sought but did not receive their ballot at a temporary address.
“The right to vote is so fundamental that generations have fought and died for it. The state should honor that legacy, and that most fundamental right for New Jerseyans, by taking a simple step that could prevent hundreds of New Jerseyans from being disenfranchised,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “We’re still confronted by aggressive attacks on the right to vote, particularly against people of color, and New Jersey must take a stand to ensure that no one loses that right in this election”
During the primary election in July, of the 138 complaints a national voter-protection hotline received from New Jersey, 41 of them – or 30 percent – reported that they never received their ballots in the mail, despite active voter registrations and good faith efforts. A significant number of these callers had requested their ballots be sent to temporary addresses, but never received them, including college students whose schools had closed and who sought their ballots at family homes.
The lawsuit, captioned League of Women Voters of New Jersey v. Way, was filed in the Law Division in New Jersey Superior Court, in Mercer County.