Here’s what’s new and what you need to know about Early Voting in Ocean County
There was all kinds of confusion last year with voting due to the pandemic and while it won't be a primarily mail-in ballot election in 2021, there are some changes to be versed with including the Early Voting process and how it works.
Early Voting, which begins on Saturday October 23, is new to everyone this year so adjustments have had to be made to set-up and mapping out how things will work for election officials and for residents.
"Voters are going to notice some new things if they do avail themselves to early voting," Ocean County Clerk Scott Colabella tells Townsquare Media News. "As soon as you go in, rather than signing in on a paper poll book, you're going to sign-in on an electronic poll pad just like you would if you're doing a credit card transaction at Home Depot and the poll worker will then give you a white credit card looking device which you'll take to the new voting machine which will call up the ballot for your town."
In Ocean County specifically, there will be 10 sites set up for early voting and mostly at Ocean County Library branches.
If you work in one part of Ocean County and live in another though, for example, you can still vote early thanks to the new electronic device.
"If you live in Toms River and you're registered to vote in Toms River but you work in the southern part of the county, you can go into Manahawkin at the southern service center of the county and you can vote there," Colabella said. "It doesn't matter where you live in the county, you can go to any of the 10 early voting sites and cast your ballot. The machine will call up the ballot for your town, give you your questions, your school board candidates, and everything that is custom to your town."
It may not be a case of working in one town, living in another but a case of not having an early voting place in the town where you live.
"Some people think that if they don't have an early voting site in their community, they can't avail themselves to early voting -- not true -- we'll have 10 sites, they were geographically selected so you'll have one in Berkeley, Brick, Jackson, Lacey, Lakewood, the barrier island in Lavallette, Little Egg Harbor, Manahawkin, Manchester and Toms River," Colabella said. "No matter where you live in the 33 towns in Ocean County, you can go to any of the 10 sites and your ballot for your town will be on that voting machine."
While electronic voting will be the way you'll cast your ballot, there will be a paper trail as a backup for proof.
"We have to have a paper trail under new state law for ballots so the ballot will be printed out, you review it, if it's good you will bring it over to an optical scanning device -- a tabulator -- and feed the ballot into that and you'll be done," Colabella said. "The poll workers will also give you a stylus to sign the poll pad and to make your choices on the voting machine."
As far as mail-in voting is concerned, there's nothing new this year, Colabella explains, except that not every registered voter will be getting a mail-in ballot sent to their home unless they request one.
"We have over 400,000 registered voters in (Ocean County) and if you recall last year during the pandemic, the Governor issued an executive order that mandated that you basically had no choice but to vote by mail for the primary and general," Colabella said. "This year, it's different, there is no executive order and so you had to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot."
There have been more than 50,000 vote-by-mail ballots sent out in Ocean County and the deadline to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot is October 26.