N.J. just made it easier to vote by mail in the July 7 primary

Updated 12:50 PM; Today 12:50 PM

Most New Jerseyans will be voting by mail next month, not in person where they can pick up "I Voted" stickers at polling places.Jake May | MLive.com

By Jonathan D. Salant | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

With so many more mail-in ballots expected in next month’s primary election, state officials have agreed to settle a lawsuit and make it easier for voters to correct any problems.

Under the agreement, which still requires approval by the U.S. District Court in Newark, voters will be told of any problems with their ballots and given the chance to fix them so they will be counted.

The state will verify the ballots by matching the voters’ signatures with those already on file, but several voting rights groups said the technique threatened to disenfranchise many New Jerseyans.

That signature match is required for all mail-in ballots, and most New Jerseyans will be voting by mail in the July 7 primary due to the coronavirus pandemic. Under Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order, the state automatically will mail ballots to all registered Democrats and Republicans.

There will be a limited number of polling places for in-person voting, but those will be considered provisional ballots, which also require a signature match.

Currently, election officials can reject any mail-in or provisional ballots if they decide that the signature does not match the one on the application or voter registration form.

This has led to thousands of ballots being thrown out, the voting rights groups said.

About 10% of the ballots cast in last month’s municipal elections, which also were conducted largely by mail, were thrown out, NJ Spotlight reported.

“It is unacceptable to deprive people of their franchise to vote, particularly using the unproven method of signature matching,” said Richard T. Smith, president of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference.

Under the agreement, if a ballot is rejected, the voter will be notified by mail and given until July 23 to confirm that he or she did submit it and to provide additional identification, which could be a driver’s license number, the last four Social Security digits, or a state-accepted form of identification that includes his or her name and address.

“This is a win for New Jersey voters who spoke out and said that they should not have to pass a handwriting test to exercise their constitutional rights,” said Ravi Doshi, senior legal counsel at Campaign Legal Center.

Jesse Burns, executive director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, which led the lawsuit, said the group is “hopeful the judge will accept our agreement so that all voters, especially disabled, elderly, and language minority voters, will be able to cast their mail-in ballots safely and with confidence, knowing that their votes won’t be rejected for signature issues without remedy or recourse.”

The New Jersey secretary of state’s office had no immediate comment.

Doshi said that the agreement was just for the primary and called on the state to make the procedures permanent so they also extend into the general election, which also could be largely conducted by mail if the pandemic continues.

The case is LWV New Jersey v. Way.