As the 2012 election nears, more than 17,000 Ocean County residents have requested and received ballots to vote by mail, according to the county clerk's office.
"That's 3,000 more than we had processed by this same date in 2008," County Clerk Scott Colabella told the Ocean County Board of Freeholders at the board's meeting in Toms River on Wednesday. In 2008, the clerk's office had processed 14,472 vote-by-mail requests, he said. As of Wednesday, they had processed 17,452.
"We're averaging 388 new requests per day," Colabella said.
Voting by mail without restriction has been available in New Jersey since 2004. Prior to that, those who wanted to vote by mail had to give a reason why they would be unable to get to the polls on Election Day, and those reasons were generally limited to college students attending school out of state, military personnel, those living and working overseas, and those homebound by illness.
In the wake of the battle over the result of the 2000 presidential election, however, voting laws and procedures across the country were overhauled under the Help America Vote initiative.
Colabella said that of Ocean County's more than 377,000 voters, he expects roughly 25,000 to request ballots to vote by mail -- 6 or 7 percent of the eligible voters.
Colabella said part of the reason for the increase is that voters have become more aware of the option to vote by mail. New Jersey is one of 28 states that allow voting by mail without having to give a reason for doing so. New Jersey also is one of five states that will allow a voter to request all future ballots to be mailed, something Colabella said he sees with seniors who spend their winters in Florida.
Those who wish to vote by mail must be registered voters. The deadline to register to vote is next Tuesday, Oct. 16, which is 21 days before the election.
Those wishing to vote by mail have until Tuesday, Oct. 30 -- seven days before the election -- to request a vote-by-mail ballot through the mail. Mail-in ballots will be issued in person up until 3 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 5, Colabella said. All voted vote-by-mail ballots must be turned in by 8 p.m. on Election Day, according to the state law.
Polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Voter registration forms can be submitted at the county clerk's main office in Toms River at 118 Washington St., or at the Southern Service Center, 179 South Main St., Manahawkin. Colabella said 58 requests for vote-by-mail ballots have been received at the southern office so far, which he said was good to see because it means residents in the county's southern towns are beginning to realize it's there for them.
Colabella said the clerk's office will have evening hours on Thursday, Nov. 1 and Friday, Nov. 2, as well as Saturday hours, at the county courthouse in Toms River. The times have not been finalized but will be announced as soon as they are, he said.
Not sure whether you're registered to vote? You can check your registration status online now, through the state's website, here.
Colabella said sample ballots and the overlays for the county's voting machines -- which include candidates for federal, state and local offices and, for the first time, school board candidates -- are being proofread and will be printed and distributed shortly.