From digital voter books to polls open days in advance, voters in New Jersey will have a much different experience this fall.
On the ballot this year, the state's 6.5 million registered voters will find the gubernatorial race and all 120 seats in the state Legislature, and two statewide referendums on gambling, in addition to the various local races.
New Jersey is now the 25th state to offer in-person early voting on weekends.
Ariel Alvarez, an associate professor of political science and law at Montclair State University, said these changes were designed to combat voter suppression. He said the law Gov. Phil Murphy signed this year in many ways was a reversal of changes made by Georgia and Iowa, which reduced polling hours and closed locations.
“This is more beneficial to people that have trouble voting on Election Day,” Alvarez said. “This will help folks that were unlikely to get to the polls … so it is an element to combat suppression.”
Alvarez also said it allows for greater accessibility, although he expects that it will be much the same demographic that has historically been engaged in the political process.
Here are the key changes implemented for the 2021 election.
You can vote in person beginning Oct. 23
Polls will open for early voting at 10 a.m. on Oct. 23 with multiple locations in each county, and stay open daily until Oct. 31.
You can vote in person even on weekends
Early voting locations will be open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (No polling locations will be open on Nov. 1.)
You can vote anywhere in your county (except on Nov. 2)
There are at least three polling locations open in each county, with most having more. The number of locations depends the number of registered voters in a county. During the early voting period, you can cast a ballot at any polling place in your county of residence. However — and this is important — you must vote at your normal polling place if you wait until Nov. 2 to vote. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 2.
For a complete list of early voting locations, here's a list of polling locations and hours by county.
Digital poll books at voting places, not paper logs
Voters will go to the early polling locations and check in on a digital poll book that is linked to the poll books at locations throughout the county to combat duplicate votes. Then, after checking in, they will use a polling machine to cast ballots, said Bergen County Superintendent of Elections Debra Francica. On Nov. 2, the digital poll book will still be used, but it will not be linked to other sites.
A whole new way of voting for 2021: A paper printout
The machine is digital and will remind voters if they don’t make selections in a given category. After making their choices, early voters will print out their ballots. A security folder will be provided to take the printed ballot across the room and scan it. After the ballot is scanned, it is considered submitted, Francica said. However, on Nov. 2, traditional voting machines will be used at polling places.
You won't automatically get a vote-by-mail ballot
Unlike last year when all registered voters were sent mail-in ballots, voters had to opt into the vote-by-mail program this year. Those ballots must be postmarked on or before 8 p.m. on Nov. 2 and be received by the voter’s county Board of Elections on or before Nov. 8. They can also be placed in a dropbox in the voter’s county by 8 p.m. on Nov. 2.
Katie Sobko is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.