Judges nixes GOP bid to stop New Jersey mail-in ballots

Camden County N.J. election officials demonstrate mail-in voting

Camden County N.J. election officials demonstrate mail-in voting. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A federal judge in New Jersey declined on Tuesday to grant a preliminary injunction sought by the Trump campaign to stop New Jersey’s mail-in ballot program.

In a filing last month, the campaign said the program violated the Constitution and would “establish conditions likely to incentivize and facilitate the same kind of fraud and confusion that have plagued New Jersey elections for years.”

Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation in August that allowed election officials to begin counting mail-in ballots 10 days before Election Day and accept un-postmarked ballots up to two days afterward.

Earlier Tuesday, attorneys representing New Jersey filed a letter to U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp that argued Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in a separate mail-in ballot dispute in South Carolina — though it favored the GOP’s position — actually buttressed their argument that the injunction should be denied.

In his opinion Tuesday, Shipp mirrored the New Jersey attorneys’ argument by quoting Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion to Monday’s order in which he said federal courts “ordinarily should not alter state election rules in the period close to an election” and that a state legislature’s decision to make election rules to address COVID-19 concerns ordinarily “should not be subject to second-guessing by an unelected federal judiciary.”

“The Court finds that Plaintiffs fail to establish that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claims,” Shipp wrote Tuesday. “Federal law establishing a national uniform election day does not prevent New Jersey from canvassing ballots before Election Day so long as the election is not consummated and the results reported before the polls close on Election Day.”

Messages were left Tuesday with a spokesperson for the Trump campaign and an attorney representing the campaign in the lawsuit.

The GOP sued New Jersey in August, calling the state’s plan to send mail-in ballots to its more than 6 million registered voters “a brazen power grab” by Murphy that created the possibility of widespread voter fraud.

The South Carolina case, one of many contested around the country with the election already underway, differed from the challenge to New Jersey since South Carolina’s focused on whether a witness’s signature should be required on the ballots. On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down an injunction, issued by an Obama-appointed federal judge late last month who cited COVID-19 concerns, that would have barred South Carolina from requiring the witness signature.

According to the New Jersey Department of State website, ballots were to be mailed no later than Monday.

The two major political parties are embroiled in dozens of lawsuits across the country over issues including mail-in ballots, ballot drop boxes, witness requirements and time extensions for voting and for counting ballots.

New Jersey voter resources

  • To see if you are registered to vote, see here.
  • To register to vote, see here.
  • To view a sample ballot based on your address, see here.
  • To sign up to become a poll worker, see here.
  • To find your polling place, see here.
  • To check the status of your mail-in or absentee ballot, see here.

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