New Jersey voters will for the first time cast their ballots for president predominantly by mail in November.
Gov. Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat, announced Friday that the upcoming general election would be conducted using mostly mail-in ballots to ensure voters’ and poll workers’ safety during the pandemic.
The governor, citing the success of the state’s predominantly vote-by-mail primary election last month, said all 6.3 million New Jersey voters would be sent ballots to return either by mail, in person or into secure drop boxes.
“Making it easier to vote does not favor any one political party,” Mr. Murphy said, “but it does favor democracy.”
New Jersey joins a growing number of states that have shifted to mail-in ballots to minimize the risks posed by the coronavirus, even as President Trump continues to sow doubt, claiming without evidence that the process is plagued by fraud. Voters in at least eight other states and Washington, D.C. — an estimated 38 million people — are also being mailed ballots to cast votes in November.
Mr. Murphy said the state would build on the lessons learned during the July 7 primary, the first broad test of voting by mail in New Jersey. Election officials will expand the number of secure locations for in-person delivery of ballots and open more polling sites for voters to complete provisional ballots on Election Day.
Ballots will be mailed the first week of October, and all schools — the site of many polling locations — will be closed for in-person classes on Nov. 3.
“You should be checking your mailbox,” said Tahesha Way, secretary of the Department of State. “And if it is the second week of October and it hasn’t arrived — do something.”
Ms. Way also asked “young, healthy” individuals to consider serving as Election Day poll workers, and she noted that New Jersey residents on probation or parole are now eligible to vote under a law that took effect in March.
In addition to the presidential contest, voters in New Jersey will be deciding whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana after legislative initiatives failed.
They will also be voting on several hotly contested congressional races, including a battle in South Jersey between Representative Jeff Van Drew, a turncoat Democrat who voted against the president’s impeachment before pledging loyalty to Mr. Trump, and Amy Kennedy, a former teacher who is married to Patrick Kennedy, a nephew of President John F. Kennedy.
Officials on Republican-led boards in Warren and Morris Counties have already expressed opposition to relying nearly entirely on mail-in ballots in November.
“It’s a costly and inefficient way to run an election,” said Jason Sarnoski, a Republican member of the Warren County Board of Chosen Freeholders. “We’re going to see additional problems and delayed results.”
He noted that long lines have been permitted to form outside reopened government agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles. “It’s not like he’s got the D.M.V. closed anymore, and you see the lines there,” Mr. Sarnoski said.
A May special election for Paterson City Council, which was conducted using mail voting at the height of the pandemic, led the state attorney general to charge four men with ballot fraud. They were accused of fraudulently collecting groups of ballots and delivering them to be counted. Mr. Trump has referred to the Paterson arrests on Twitter.
Amber McReynolds, chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute, applauded New Jersey’s initiative to expand access to voting. But she said she had urged the state to implement an electronic ballot tracking system to increase voters’ trust in the process as well as provide opportunities for them to troubleshoot issues before Election Day.
For example, if a voter’s signature was being challenged, the person would be alerted while there was still time to cure the problem.
“Just like tracking an Amazon package,” she said, “you can see where your ballot is at every moment.”
Last month’s vote-by-mail election drew the second-highest level of voter participation for a New Jersey primary, but it was not without snags.
County clerks complained about supply-chain shortages of envelopes. Some voters got the wrong ballots; other ballots never reached voters. A glitch involving a bar code caused some ballots to be returned in the mail before being counted.
An aide to Mr. Murphy said the governor had held high-level conversations with representatives of the Postal Service to try to safeguard against similar problems leading up to the Nov. 3 election.
There was also a lag time in collecting and counting the mail-in primary ballots, which had to to be postmarked by July 7; the official results of all the races were not certified until last week.
Still, the winners of most races were clear within hours or days, much sooner than some people had anticipated. Ms. Kennedy’s most formidable Democratic opponent, Brigid Callahan Harrison, conceded the race about 20 minutes after polling locations closed.
Elizabeth Matto, director of Rutgers University’s Center for Youth Political Participation, said it would be crucial for New Jersey and other states that are relying heavily on mail-in ballots to invest in “extensive, accurate, nonpartisan” voter education, especially in areas hardest hit by Covid-19.
“People shouldn’t have to chose between voting and their health,” Professor Matto said.
But she said it would also be important to provide ample in-person voting options, especially in a presidential election when turning out to the polls can be a point of pride.
“You want to go get the sticker,” she said. “You want to take your kids into the voting booth.”
But the success of New Jersey’s shift to a predominantly mail-in election will depend on persuading enough people to cast ballots by mail to avoid long lines that could increase the spread of the virus among voters and poll workers.
Mr. Trump has assailed the Postal Service in recent months, growing increasingly critical of mail-in voting and issuing repeated warnings about the possibility of election fraud.
On Thursday, he repeated an unfounded claim that the election could be rife with fraud if mail ballots were widely used. And he made clear that he opposed Democratic demands for additional funding for the post office to ensure it had the capacity to efficiently process an increased volume of mail.
The comments came amid growing scrutiny of the postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, a Republican donor.
The issue has also become grist in fund-raising appeals to Democrats. In a fund-raising email, a group founded by Democratic members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Go for Broke for Vets, asserts that the president and his allies are trying to “undercut, under fund” and weaken the Postal Service, one of the nation’s largest employers of veterans.
Mr. Murphy said the state was offering several ways for voters to personally deliver their ballots, in part because of concerns about the Postal Service.
“The Postal Service and its necessary funding is being turned into a political football by those who simply don’t believe in expanding ballot access,” he said. “We will not let these political issues disenfranchise voters, or suppress anyone’s ability or right to vote.”