Justice advocates demand probe of Essex County voting snafu

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and 19 other advocates today sent a letter to Essex County Superintendent of Elections Patty Spango requesting an investigation into problems at multiple polling places in Newark for this week’s primary election and prior balloting.

During the June 8 primary, multiple polling places in Newark did not have voting machines when polls opened, and it took hours for the machines to arrive.

Voters were left having to use provisional ballots – a necessary backup but one that should not have been needed – or return later to try again.

“I went to my Newark polling place at 7:30 on Tuesday morning to cast my ballot only to find that there were no voting machines available,” said Ryan Haygood, CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “I was told to return later and not offered a provisional ballot until I proactively requested one. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have encountered voting obstacles in Newark. Running elections is a massive endeavor, but we must do better.”

Some of the organizations who have signed onto the letter engage in nonpartisan Election Protection each election cycle, including monitoring a hotline, social media monitoring, field volunteers and, if needed, legal advocacy.

The letter points out that this week’s election was not the first time that there have been voting obstacles in Newark on Election Day. In the 2020 General election, multiple polling places in Newark were not open on time. There have also been issues in elections prior to that.

“Counties like Essex like to pride themselves on holding successful elections, and in many ways that is true. But for an election to be truly successful it must provide equal access to the ballot to all voters, and, unfortunately, that has not been the case,” said Henal Patel, director of the Democracy and Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “Voters in suburban Essex County generally do not encounter the same issues that voters in Newark – the state’s largest and a majority Black city – regularly do. The unfortunate reality is that election issues in Essex County are disproportionately felt by Black and Brown voters.”

The letter, which asks for a response by June 17, requests a thorough investigation regarding the issues encountered at Newark polling locations for the 2021 Primary Election and in previous years – and measures to be taken to prevent the problems from persisting – and that the findings and plans be released publicly.

“We do not make this request lightly. We understand how difficult it is to run elections, particularly during a pandemic. We work with counties and the state to ensure that our election system is strong and that voters can trust it. Our goal is to ensure all voters have easy and equal access to the ballot. However, voters in Newark do not have the same access as voters in other parts of Essex County and the State of New Jersey," said the letter.

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