On August 14, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued Executive Order No. 177 which outlined an emergency election plan for the November 2020 election in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The election plan included provisions to send every active New Jersey voter a vote-by-mail ballot and to install ballot drop boxes in every county. On August 28, 2020, the New Jersey legislature passed a bill codifying many of the provisions of the executive order, including the vote-by-mail expansion.
The Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee, and the New Jersey Republican State Committee filed suit to challenge Executive Order 177. They argue that the executive order violates the state and federal constitutions. The lawsuit seeks to prevent the Governor and Secretary of State from sending every active voter a vote-by-mail ballot.
Vote-by-mail is a safe and secure option for voting. New Jersey law already allows any active voter to apply to receive a ballot in the mail without an excuse. The new plan allows every active voter to receive a ballot in the mail without requiring an application. New Jersey already successfully implemented a similar plan for the July primary election, and only seeks to expand this option for the November election.
LWVNJ and NJ NAACP are intervening in this lawsuit to defend the vote-by-mail plan on behalf of their members. CLC, alongside its partners the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ), and DLA Piper, represents LWVNJ and NJ NAACP in defending the vote-by-mail plan to ensure that voters have expanded options to the ballot box, and to prevent voter confusion as voters make plans to vote safely.
What’s at Stake
New Jersey has reported more than 191,000 cases and 14,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. The pandemic will not end by the time voters cast their ballots in the November election. Voters need expanded options to vote safely, including vote-by-mail. Voters also need to know their options in time to make an informed voting plan by the election, as Election Day is fast approaching on November 3, 2020.
This lawsuit creates voter confusion and seeks to limit voters’ options to plan for Election Day. Because the new plan does not require voters to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot before receiving it, many voters are already expecting to receive their ballots in the mail. If this lawsuit succeeds, these voters risk being left in the lurch because they will have to scramble to apply for an absentee ballot at the last minute, or be forced to vote in person or not at all—a choice that is untenable for many high-risk voters and their caretakers given the ongoing pandemic.