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New Jersey: How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

What you need to know, including key deadlines, registration details, and how to vote by mail.

Grace Han/Thrillist

I don't care how you go about casting your ballot in the 2020 Election, as long as you're doing it in the first place. Hit up the polls on November 3 and flex that "I Voted" sticker all over Instagram, go the absentee route, or for the real overachievers in the room, opt for early voting. No matter how you vote, it would behoove you to make a plan ASAP.

With that November 3 date looming, there are deadlines and important details you'll want to know about to ensure a stress-free voting experience. Here's what you need to know. 

What's the deadline to register to vote in New Jersey? 

In Jersey, you can register to vote online, in person, or by mail. Your application must be submitted or postmarked by October 13

How to register to vote in New Jersey

It's important that you first double check you're actually eligible to vote. Naturally, you've got to be a citizen of the United States and have resided in the county where you'll cast your ballot for at least 30 days before the election -- so any last minute moves might complicate things. You can be 17 years-old when you register, but only if you're going to be 18 by the time of election. Those serving a sentence or parole from any "indictable offense" are barred from voting. 

  • Online: This is not only the easiest route for voter registration, but the safest considering the coronavirus pandemic. Just head over to the online portal, fill out your details, and hit submit without the inconvenience of leaving your couch. 
  • Mail: If you're planning to mail in your forms, download the county-specific application, follow the instructions (carefully!), and send it to your specific county elections office
  • In person: Jersey also allows residents to register IRL. Just contact your local election office for more details on when and where you are able to do so. 

Can I vote early? 

Sort of! NJ doesn't offer a period before the election for tradition in-person early voting, but the state does allow voters to return their vote by mail ballots early via secure ballot drop boxes, by mail, or delivering them in person at the board of elections office, according to NJ Department of State, Division of Elections' information on how to vote.

Can I vote by mail? 

Yes. You can vote by mail -- and you don't even need to have an excuse, like in some states (we're looking at you, New York).

In fact, every active voter registered in the state should receive a ballot int he mail. The Division of Elections states on its website that if you don't receive your ballot in the mail by October 12, you can track its status online or contact your county clerk for assistance.

How to request a vote by mail ballot in New Jersey

If for some reason you're not already receiving a ballot in the mail, you can request one by completing an Application to Vote by Mail Ballot and returning it to your county clerk. The application must be received no later than seven days before the election, though you can also apply for vote by mail ballot up until 3pm the day before the election if you absolutely must. 

Just note that your county clerk can't accept applications via fax or email unless you're a military or overseas voter.

How to vote by mail in New Jersey

Once you've received your ballot in the mail, the rest is as easy as "VOTE, SIGN, SEAL, RETURN," as the state puts it.

Carefully read the instructions on your ballot and mark your choices clearly before signing and sealing it. As for returning it, you've got four options.

  • By mail: Your completed ballot must be in the mail and postmarked by November 3 (Election Day) and received by your county board of elections no later than November 10 to be counted. Of course, you should get your ballot in the mail well ahead of the cutoff. Don't procrastinate.
  • Drop box: Don't want to worry about potential mail delays? Pop your ballot into one of your county's secure drop boxes by 8pm on November 3.
  • In person at a board of elections office: You can also hand-deliver your mail ballot at your county's board of elections office up until 8pm on November 3.
  • In person at a polling place: If you wait until the absolute last minute, you can also deliver ballot at your polling place on Election Day -- before the cutoff at 8pm. 

Is there a way to track my mail-in ballot? How can I make sure it's counted?

New Jersey's Track My Ballot site lets you check in on its status.

Beyond that, be sure to follow the instructions and meet the deadlines. Also, try not to tear or otherwise damage your ballot materials so you don't risk it being invalidated on a technicality. 

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

If you choose to vote in person at your polling place on Election Day, you can do so from 6am to 8pm on November 3. Just note that you'll receive a provisional ballot there since you should have already received a ballot in the mail, according to the state's How to Vote in New Jersey information site. You can look up your polling location online.

While voting by mail is likely the safest way to participate in this election, there are ways you can reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 if you plan to vote in person at your local polling place. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has issued safety recommendations for voters.

Here's a rundown of what the CDC recommends, per its official election guidance page:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 
  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them with cleaners and disinfectant products. This is where hand sanitizer comes in again. Use it right after you touch the voting equipment, and if you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried first.
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is.
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
  • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it). 
  • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location.

Additional New Jersey voting resources: 

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Megan Schaltegger is a staff writer at Thrillist.