Clearing the air about absentee ballots

Dear Editor:
I’m writing in the hopes that you will join me in helping to clear the air about what it means to truly empower voters. In recent weeks, politicians in Hoboken have been decrying so-called absentee ballots, and your news outlet has continued to refer to these ballots and to past scandals involving their use. I hope this letter will serve to clear the air.
What the politicians in town are calling absentee ballots no longer exist. In fact, all of New Jersey’s antiquated absentee ballot laws were repealed on June 30, 2009 and replaced with a Vote-by-Mail system, which is now the law statewide.
Vote by Mail is not only legal, but advocates for clean elections – like the respected non-partisan group Common Cause – call it a great reform that increases voter participation. Common Cause says Vote by Mail elections can increase turnout by four to five percentage points in general elections, and significantly more in local elections.
Registered voters are now given the option to select to vote by mail for one calendar year or for all future general elections. Once such a request is made, the county board of elections is required to send a ballot to the voter, without the need for further requests. Several states have adopted similar measures (including California, Colorado, Montana, and Washington), and nearly ALL voting in the State of Oregon has been done by mail since 1998.
Common Cause found that: “Among the other benefits of mail balloting are a reduction in logistical problems associated with in-person voting on Election Day, a reduction in poll-worker requirements, increased opportunities to conduct voter mobilization, minimizing the appeal of last-minute attack ads, providing more time for voters to fill out their ballots, the potential to save both time and money, and deterring fraud more efficiently than photo-ID requirements used with in-person polling.”
The law also includes a key provision to stop the kind of irregularities seen in the past with old-style absentee ballots. Now no one can serve as an authorized messenger for more than 10 qualified voters in an election. This significantly limits the ability to harvest large amounts of votes, as has been an unfortunate practice in the 4th ward.
So, when a professional politician like Michael Lenz calls a Vote By Mail ballot an absentee ballot, he’s simply trying to fool voters, and ultimately, make it harder for them to vote. This isn’t voter empowerment; it’s actually an attempt at voter suppression. Having been appointed to his seat on the council, Michael Lenz may not fully appreciate the power of the vote, but that’s no reason to lie to voters.
Lastly, and with respect, I hope that you will take a few moments to educate your reporters about the significant difference between so-called absentee ballots and Vote by Mail. The public counts on you to cut through the political double-speak that is coming out of City Hall during this critical election in Hoboken.

Tim Occhipinti

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