Executive Order Pushes Back Election Deadlines for Vote Counting, Audits

By: Savannah Scarborough, Writer / Follow South Jersey News Reporting Intern

Photo: Jon Bradley | Follow South Jersey

TRENTON, N.J. — On November 19, Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order extending certain election-related deadlines for specific counties.

This executive order extended the deadline for counties to verify the presidential election’s official results from Friday, November 20, to Wednesday, November 25. The deadline for counties to conduct an election audit was also extended an extra week from Friday, December 4 to Friday, December 11.

Gov. Murphy implemented the order to give the board of canvassers in two counties more time to hold their meetings. Ocean and Salem counties notified the Office of the Secretary of State before the issuance of Order No. 198 about the risk COVID-19 was placing on their ability to meet. Only these two counties are granted the extension.

County board of canvasser meetings are crucial and have to take place by specific deadlines. The conference ensures each ballot is accurately processed and that every lawful vote is counted in the official election.

Due to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, Ocean and Salem County Boards of Elections experienced significant spikes of positive cases within their staff. The Ocean County Board and Salem County Board each had seventeen positive COVID-19 cases in early November. These outbreaks resulted in staff shortages and have dramatically affected their ability to work through the election process.

The Ocean County Board shut down ballot-counting operations on November 9. This halt resulted in the board losing five full days of ballot processing for the 2020 election. The Salem County Board cases led 33 staff members into a quarantine beginning on November 6.

Gov. Phil Murphy believes these extensions will enable county boards of elections members and staff in Salem and Ocean counties to isolate themselves for the suggested two weeks. However, Gov. Phil Murphy still expects that even through this, the audit will occur before the electors’ meeting.

“This executive order will provide these dedicated officials with the time they need to properly conclude their work for this year’s general election,” Gov. Murphy said in a press release. “Our democracy is stronger when every voice is heard.”

Despite Gov. Murphy’s best efforts to keep New Jersey safe, his executive order stated that the COVID-19 outbreak might affect New Jersey’s voting system as long as social distancing procedures are set in place, and possibly for some time after that.

This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.