This fall, New Jersey voters will need to navigate a confusing calendar of deadlines and voting periods
Elections do not just happen on Election Day. While procedures vary from state to state, every election cycle includes at least the start of absentee voting, the voter registration deadline, the absentee ballot request deadline, Election Day, post-election canvassing and auditing, and the certification of the election.
When multiple elections hit near the same time—as will happen in New Jersey this fall following Governor Chris Christie’s decision to hold an October special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant following the passing of long time Senator Frank Lautenberg—the result can be a lot of voter confusion and administrative difficulties.
The visible process before elections starts at least 45 days ahead of Election Day. The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which covers only federal elections, requires states to send requested absentee ballots to military and overseas voters starting 45 days before an election. Many states, including New Jersey, have formalized the 45-day requirement for the start of mailing absentee ballots in state statute for all elections and all voters. In New Jersey, voters can request an absentee ballot by mail as close as seven days prior to Election Day and in-person by 3pm the day before Election Day.
This fall, New Jersey voters will need to navigate the following confusing calendar of deadlines and voting periods (dates for the special election are listed in italics and underlined):
September 1 – Start of Absentee Voting for Special Election
September 21 – Start of Absentee Voting for Regularly Scheduled General Election
September 25 – Voter Registration Deadline for Special Election
October 9 – Absentee Ballot Request (by mail) Deadline for Special Election
October 15 – Voter Registration Deadline for Regularly Scheduled General Election
October 15 – Absentee Ballot Request (in person) Deadline for Special Election
October 16 – Special Election for U.S. Senate
October 29 – Absentee Ballot Request (by mail) Deadline for Regularly Scheduled General Election
November 4 – Absentee Ballot Request (in person) Deadline for Regularly Scheduled General Election
November 5 – Regularly Scheduled General Election
New Jersey voters must register to vote by September 25 if they plan to cast a ballot in the special election. If they register between September 26 and October 15, they can cast a ballot in the regularly scheduled general election on November 5, but many of them will be disappointed to learn that they cannot vote on October 16, even though they registered before special Election Day.
For voters already registered and who have requested absentee ballots, these individuals will receive a special election absentee ballot by mail starting on September 1 and a regular general election absentee ballot on September 21, and they have until October 16 and November 5, respectively, to return them. Between September 21 and October 16 absentee voters may be in possession of two different absentee ballots for two different elections.
Even during presidential elections, when voter engagement tends to reach its cyclical peak, election administrators have a difficult time educating voters about the myriad election requirements. During a special election and off-year statewide gubernatorial election, voter engagement will be a little lower. In addition to the public education duties of an election administrator, this year they will be called on to count the votes and certify the results of the special election for senate all while simultaneously conducting the regularly scheduled election for governor.
The dedicated individuals who run the elections in the state are in for a wild fall.