Polls for NJ Primary Go Mostly Vacant, but for Older Voters

New Jersey’s primary was marked by mostly empty polls, with many of those who cast paper ballots in person skeptical of the state’s new mail-in voting system.

The West End Hose Company fire station in Somerville, New Jersey, was one of several locations open Tuesday for voters to cast their ballots in the state’s primary election. (Courthouse News photo/Nick Rummell)

SOMERVILLE, N.J. (CN) — A smattering of mask-clad voters hit the polls in New Jersey for Tuesday’s primary, with primarily older citizens wanting the comfort of casting their ballots in person. 

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Governor Phil Murphy had postponed the New Jersey primaries from May to July and issued an executive order allowing mail-in ballots for all voters.

Only provisional ballots will be counted in person at about 1,600 polling sites around the state — except for those who have certain disabilities, who may use voting booths — which may leave politicos and election-watchers waiting a week or perhaps more for some key races. 

“For the general election, the extent of such a delay in November is pretty scary on what it will do to voter confidence,” said John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics. “It’s going to be challenging.”

With only one voting booth at most sites and drop boxes outside, primary voting locations are sparser than usual but still draw voters passionate about making their voice heard. Denise Harley, a 66-year-old volunteer who helped set up the Somerville ballot site at 5 a.m., said a steady inflow of voters have come in during the morning without much incident.

Walt Boysen, a life-long Republican and Airforce veteran, drops his ballot off at the Mantua Municipal building on Tuesday, as New Jersey conducts its primary election. (Courthouse News photo/Emilee Larkin)

One voter became agitated because he wanted to vote in a booth, Harley said, but eventually he accepted that he had to fill out a provisional ballot.

“I’m not going to argue with somebody,” she said, laughing. “Once I told him it takes about 20 minutes to do it, he kind of backed off and sat down.”

Primary voting in the 2nd District looked different this year than in previous years, with more people dumping their ballots in a drop box instead of going into a booth. 

Barbara Costantini has been working the polls for 30 years at the Woolwich Municipal building and she said the turnout this year has been low, having only seen eight voters in the first three hours of the polls being open.

“It’s usually slow at this polling location, but this is definitely slower than normal,” said Costantini, noting most of the ballots were dropped in the box outside the building. Drop boxes have accepted mail-in ballots since mid-June.

The race in the 2nd District has an interesting element this year with incumbent Jeff Van Drew switching from a Democrat to Republican over the impeachment of the president. Van Drew, a conservative when he was a Democrat, pledged his “undying support” to Trump after he changed parties. 

Walt Boysen, a life-long Republican and Airforce veteran, dropped his ballot off at the Mantua Municipal building and said he was happy to see Van Drew make the switch. “He got my vote,” said Boysen proudly.

Ryan Nahas, a Democrat, said it was “sketchy” that Van Drew left the party. “I didn’t think he would do that,” said Nahas, after placing his ballot in the Woolwich box. “I feel like there has to be something he might have missed.”

With Van Drew out of the party, Brigid Harrison and Amy Kennedy appear to be the front-runners. Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University has endorsements from both state senators and the New Jersey state Senate President Stephen Sweeney.

Kennedy, a former teacher and wife of Rhode Island Representative John Kennedy, has held her own in the race, scoring endorsements from Governor Murphy and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

A sign guides voters to the West End Hose Company fire station in Somerville, New Jersey, one of several locations open Tuesday for voters to cast their ballots in the state’s primary election. (Courthouse News photo/Nick Rummell)

The 7th District, which flipped from Republicans’ to Democrats’ hands in 2018, is considered one of the tighter races, and one the GOP hopes to win come November. Two years ago, Congressman Tom Malinowski beat long-time incumbent Leonard Lance, but this time he is likely to face a stiffer challenge with Tom Kean Jr.

Kean, the minority leader in the state Senate, has a long political pedigree. His father, Tom Kean Sr., served as the 48th governor of New Jersey, and Kean is descended from Thomas Dudley, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. 

Ruben Rivera, 40, said he sent in his party-affiliation-change form three weeks ago — he switched from Democratic to Republican — but that it still hasn’t been received. “I just want to make sure it gets there,” he said. 

“I was always told that, ‘You’re Hispanic, you’re supposed to be Democrat,’ which is ridiculous,’” Rivera said. “As an adult, people wise up and they start seeing through the smog of bullshit.”

A 66-year-old resident of Somerville named Susan, who did not want to give her last name because one of her sons works for the FBI, said she is voting in person “because I’m old person and that’s what I do.” 

A sign advertising New Jersey Senator Cory Booker for re-election also touts Brigid Harrison, a fellow Democrat running for Congress in the state primary Tuesday. (Courthouse News photo/Emilee Larkin)

While Susan is an independent, she is voting Democratic this year. “I think every election is important; I don’t think there’s too many elections that aren’t,” she said. “I think there’s more at stake during this election than in other times.” 

A few miles north in Bedminster, even fewer voters trickled into the ballot site, with many of those who did leery about mail-in voting.

After casting her vote, Barbara Miller-Stacey, a resident of Bedminster for 36 years, said she was surprised she wasn’t able to use the ballot machine and had to use a provisional ballot. “I don’t trust the mail-in at all, this year in particular,” she said. “I could have done it at home.”

The ballot site is just down the road from the Trump National Golf Club, where the president often visits to play golf and relax. “It saddens to see our township encourages demonstrating,” Miller-Stacey said. “These are outsiders that come in. They are not local people at all.”

Sharon Walsh, a 66-year-old Republican, said she is “really passionate” about this election, noting her father, John Walsh, was the first elected mayor of Parsippany-Troy Hills township. “I would prefer to watch my vote get placed, so that there’s no hanky-panky,” she said. “I think it’s going to be dirty this year.”

%d bloggers like this: