For the past several days, voters have lined up outside the Monmouth County Board of Elections office in Freehold to drop off their mail-in ballots in person, some waiting as long as 30 minutes, according to some people who were waiting on line Wednesday.
The voters, mostly masked and socially distanced, decided to go in person rather than use the postal service or one of the 17 secure ballot boxes located throughout the county.
The parking lot was at capacity and there were more than 20 people on line at any given time throughout the day, though the line got smaller later in the day when elections employees opened a side door so voters could use two entrances to the building.
Allan Roth, secretary of the Monmouth County Board of Elections, said he had no hard evidence of why so many people were delivering mail-in ballots in person.
“I know that for a lot of the voters, voting by mail is new,” Roth said. “I can only assume that the voters want to ensure that their ballots are received.”
Additionally, if a voter is bringing in ballots for other voters, that voter is called a bearer and a bearer can only deliver someone else’s ballot in person.
That’s why Catherine Roche said she took the 20-something minute ride from Shrewsbury to deliver her ballot, and ballots for her husband and sister. Since she was carrying votes for other people in person, she had to sign the envelopes and show identification before dropping them off. (People who are bearers don’t have to show identification if they are using a drop box or the mail.)
She waited about 10 minutes for her turn, she said.
“I’m proud to be an American. I’m proud of our country. I’m proud that we can vote,” she said, noting she would rather vote in person.
While voters can hand in their ballots in person, the Monmouth County board said it “strongly encourages” voters to use the secure drop boxes “as it saves staff time.”
It also helps people conform to social distancing requirements, Roth said.
He said the ballot boxes, which are under 24-hour surveillance, are not like United States Postal Service mailboxes.
“They are a direct depository for a vote by mail ballot,” he said, noting that ballots are picked up by county employees from the boxes daily. “From the time the ballots are picked up at the drop box to the time they are delivered to the Board offices, the ballots are in the custody of Board employees.”
Some counties have bipartisan teams pick up the ballots, while other counties use law enforcement officers to help with the ballot collections.
The ballots are kept in a locked box and opened and recorded at the board’s offices, he said.
“We are delighted that voters are voting early as this really will help staff and the new hires start the processing,” said Eileen Kean, one of the board’s commissioners. “We want to get ballots back ASAP to maintain a constant work effort.”
Counties can start counting mail-in ballots 10 days before Election Day.
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Karin Price Mueller may be reached at [email protected].