Election 2021: N.J. rolling out early voting, other changes. Here’s what you need to know

N.J. voters have a third option to cast their ballots this fall: a new early voting period. Here’s what you need to know about how to vote and who’s on the ballot.

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File photo: Stickers await voters in the 2021 primary election in New Jersey. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Election Day is on Nov. 2.

Unlike last year, when Gov. Phil Murphy ordered a largely all-mail election because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, residents can cast their ballot in person this year on Election Day — or during the state’s new nine-day early voting period.

At least 600,000 voters will receive their ballot by mail, according to Robert Giles, director of the state Division of Elections.

“It will be interesting to see…what option [New Jersey voters] decide, whether it’s early voting, vote-by-mail, or Election Day voting,” Giles said. “I think we’ll see a lot of people voting either early or in person … It’s just part of what we’ve grown up with and people like to get out and see their neighbors and participate in democracy in person.”

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Regardless of which option you choose, New Jersey voters have until Oct. 12 to register to vote in the general election. You can check your status at vote.nj.gov.

Here’s what you need to know about how to vote and who’s on the ballot:

When is early voting and how does it work?

Gov. Murphy signed a bill in May requiring the state to hold nine days of early, in-person machine voting ending the Sunday before Election Day in November. (There will be fewer days of in-person voting for primaries: three for a non-presidential primary and five in a presidential election year.)

This fall, the nine-day early voting period will take place for the first time from Saturday, Oct. 23 through Sunday, Oct. 31. Hours will be from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

There’s an important distinction on where you can go to vote in person:

During the nine-day early voting period, you can cast your ballot at any early voting location in the county where you are registered. Here’s a list of all the early voting locations by county.

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If you want to vote in person on Election Day, Nov. 2, you must go to the polling place in the precinct you’re assigned to. If you’re unsure where your polling place is, you can look it up using your address on the state Division of Elections website.

The machines voters will use may also be different. As our partners at NJ Spotlight explain, most counties use paperless voting machines on Election Day, but the machines used for early voting will use paper ballots to allow voters from any municipality to show up at any location within their county.

All counties are using electronic poll books to keep track of who has voted early to avoid duplication.

If you’re voting by mail…

You can request a mail ballot be sent to you from your county election board by Tuesday, Oct. 26. Otherwise, you can pick it up from your county clerk by Monday, Nov. 1 at 3 p.m.

If you choose not to mail in your ballot, you can drop it off at one of the secure drop boxes in your county, at one of the early voting locations, or at your assigned polling place on Election Day. If you’re delivering the ballot in person to a polling place, it must be in by 8 p.m. on Nov. 2.

What’s at stake?

Control of the state government. Not only is Democratic incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy facing a reelection challenge from Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, but all 120 seats in the Legislature — the Assembly and state Senate — are up for grabs.

In South Jersey, all eyes will be on two state senate seats.

In the second district, which covers Atlantic County, it’s a battle of the Vinces. Democratic Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo and former Republican Assemblyman Vince Polistina are running for the “technically open” senate seat vacated when Sen. Chris Brown stepped down to join the Murphy administration as an advisor on issues concerning Atlantic City. Brown had already decided to not seek reelection. Polistina was chosen by Atlantic County Republicans to finish Brown’s term, but Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney gaveled the chamber out of session until after Election Day. Despite being administered an oath by a retired judge, Polistina is still only a “state senator-select.”

In the eighth district, which covers parts of Atlantic, Burlington, and Camden counties, State Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego is seeking re-election, this time as a Democrat. She changed parties in 2019, telling NJ.com that the GOP “drifted from her belief system.” Hoping to get one back for the Republicans is Addiego’s colleague, Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield.

In Central Jersey, there’s another open senate seat in the 16th district. That district covers Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset counties. Democratic Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker and former Republican Congressman Mike Pappas are battling for the seat being vacated by Christopher “Kip” Bateman, who announced in January that he would not seek reelection.

There are also two statewide ballot questions.

Question 1 asks whether wagering on all college sports should be allowed. Currently, bets on college athletic events that take place in New Jersey or on a competition involving a college from the state are prohibited. If the question is approved by voters, the Legislature would be allowed to pass laws to allow bets on college sports, even for teams representing the Garden State.

Question 2, if approved, would allow more organizations to use proceeds from “games of chance” — like bingo or raffles — to support their groups. Only veterans and senior citizens groups are allowed to benefit from gaming proceeds. Other organizations — charitable, educational, religious, fraternal, and civic groups; volunteer fire companies; and first-aid or rescue squads — can only use gaming proceeds for “educational, charitable, patriotic, religious, or public-spirited uses.”

There are also local, down ballot races taking place as well, like the formal election for the mayor in Camden. It’s best to consult your county board of elections to find out what’s on the ballot in your town.

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