East Orange virtual town hall discusses upcoming November election

East Orange Mayor Ted Green, left, takes notes, as special guest Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin, right, names key dates regarding ballot mailing for the upcoming November election.

EAST ORANGE, NJ — On Wednesday, Sept. 16, East Orange Mayor Ted Green held his weekly virtual town hall meeting via Facebook Live and welcomed special guest Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin, who spoke about the upcoming election.

“Voting is our most powerful right,” Durkin said at the meeting. “If you vote, you feel more invested in the outcome and success of your community. You can’t vote unless you’re registered to vote. That deadline is Oct. 13; 27 days from today is the deadline to register to vote. Everyone needs to get registered. You can register to vote online now at the New Jersey Division of Elections website.”

Register to vote at https://nj.gov/state/elections/voter-registration.shtml.

“It’s very secure to vote by mail,” Durkin said, addressing vote-by-mail fears. “There are zero reports of organized voter fraud throughout the country. It’s very rare. The system is set up with checks and balances and it’s a bipartisan system. So, the county clerk mails out the ballot, but, when returned, the ballots are returned to the Board of Elections. The Board of Elections has two Democrats and two Republicans that will serve on the board and will verify the validity of the signatures and whether or not the vote should count.

“They do say your vote does not count based on a signature comparison or no signature; you have a chance to rectify that and cure your signature and have your ballot counted,” he added.

Durkin explained the difference between mail-in voting and absentee voting.

“Absentee voting has been with us since the Civil War, so it’s not something new,” Durkin said. “Absentee voting has been around because of people in the military needing to vote and they were away from home.

“The technical difference between the two is, with absentee voting, you need to document an excuse as to why you need a ballot. Whether it’s because you’re in the military, disabled, etc.,” he continued. “New York still has absentee voting. New Jersey, in 2009, changed from absentee voting to vote-by-mail. We said that you should not have to give an excuse to vote by mail. It should be no-excuse voting by mail, just like you’d go to the polls and vote on the machine. So, in 2009, we went to no-excuse vote-by-mail. That is the difference.”

Durkin assured residents that their votes will count this election.

“The governor’s executive order said all registered voters will be mailed a ballot by Oct. 5,” Durkin said. “In order to get your ballot, we need to know the correct mail-to address. Obviously, everyone has a voter-registered address in Essex County, but we need to know where to mail your ballot. For example, let’s say you were in college and now you’re home and your mail-to address that’s on your vote-by-mail application or your voter registration, either form,” still has your college address. “So, you have to make sure that’s correct. If you’re home, you need to send us a vote-by-mail application updating where we should send your ballot.”

Residents whose addresses are entered correctly into the system do not need to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot; one will be sent automatically. Polling places will also be open to the public.

“Polling places were just finalized today all across Essex County,” Durkin said. “Tomorrow, we will post those polling places at essexclerk.com. Also, every registered voter will be mailed a postcard. There are no sample ballots this year for this election. On that postcard, it will tell you why we’re holding this election in the matter in which we’re holding it. It will also tell each voter where their polling place is, the address, and where they can view their sample ballots. All the sample ballots are up at essexclerk.com.”

Super polling sites will also be available.

“During the pandemic, social distancing is of concern, and polling sites that we have are close quarters,” Durkin explained. “The NBA responded by providing arenas as polling places, which are termed ‘super polling places,’ because now you can allow for more districts in a larger area to come in and have more voters partake in voting on Election Day.

“They’re having voter registration drives at the Prudential Center on Sept. 22, early voting at the Prudential Center and the County Clerk’s Office beginning in two weeks,” he continued. “If you didn’t get your ballot, you can come and get your ballot in person at the South Mountain Recreation Complex, Prudential Center and the County Clerk’s Office Hall of Records.”