With less than three weeks to go before a pandemic-era election that is being conducted mainly by mail, Democrats in New Jersey are returning ballots at rates that outpace Republicans in some of the state’s most conservative strongholds.
In the rural north, on the Jersey Shore and in horse country, Democrats are beating Republicans to the mailbox — and the drop box — in an election where every voter was mailed a paper ballot to turn in by Nov. 3.
In Ocean County, home to more Republicans than any other part of the state, nearly 39 percent of registered Democrats had voted as of Wednesday, compared with 25 percent of Republicans, county records show. Rural Sussex County had a nearly identical split: More than 39 percent of Democrats had returned ballots by Wednesday, compared with 24 percent of Republicans.
While many states have seen a surge in mail-in voting, New Jersey is one of only four states where the rate of return has already eclipsed 25 percent of the state’s total turnout four years ago.
Pollsters, lawmakers and campaign consultants see it as a sign of intensity among Democrats eager to show their displeasure with a polarizing president and a measure of distrust among Republicans toward mail voting — a method President Trump has attacked, without evidence, as being ripe for fraud.
Republican leaders say they expect a surge of in-person ballot delivery closer to Election Day.
“They’re very suspicious of the mail,” said State Senator Joseph Pennacchio, a Republican chairman of the president’s re-election campaign in New Jersey who is recommending voters use drop boxes. “If you had a $100 bill, would you trust putting $100 in the mail? Of course not.”