Registered Democrats are far outpacing Republicans among New Jersey residents voting early or by mail, and the disparity could make it difficult to call some races on Election Day.

Early voting continues through Sunday, Nov. 6. Mail-in voting continues through Election Day, which falls on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Nearly 349,000 Democrats had cast advance votes by the end of Wednesday, according to a tabulation by Associated Press election researcher Ryan Dubicki. Those accounted for 61% of the nearly 569,000 votes submitted so far, even though registered Democrats only account for about 39% of the electorate as of state tallies released this month.

Only about 126,000 Republicans had cast votes by that point, accounting for 22% of votes (while Republicans are 23% of the electorate). The remainder were from unaffiliated voters, or from voters registered with other parties.

While New Jersey is a largely blue state overall (with about 2.5 million registered Democrats), it has nearly as many independents (about 2.4 million). Only about 1.5 million voters are registered as Republicans.

The disparity in advance voter participation is less pronounced — but still significant — in the highly competitive 7th Congressional District, where incumbent Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski is fighting to hold onto his seat amid a challenge from Republican former state Sen. Tom Kean Jr.

Malinowski won a 2020 face-off with Kean by less than a single percentage point, and redistricting has since shifted 30,000 more Republicans into the 7th District. Republicans in the district (with 207,000 voters, or 33% of the electorate) now outnumber Democrats (190,000 voters, or 31%) — but unaffiliated voters outnumber both (215,000 voters, or 35%).

Yet the statewide trend broadly continues. Nearly 34,800 Democrats have already voted in that district (54% of the more than 64,300 votes cast in total), compared to a bit shy of 16,600 Republicans (28%). Only 11,500 (18%) of independents have cast ballots there so far.

In general, the difference in party participation is far more lopsided among mail-in voters than those coming in person to polling locations to vote early statewide — though Democrats outpace Republicans and independents in early in-person voting, too.

That could all make it difficult, or impossible, to call a winner in tight races on Election Night. In the 7th District, for instance, an apparent lead by Kean, the Republican, could narrow or be reversed as more mail-in votes from Democrats are tallied in the subsequent days.

The opposite happened two years ago, when most voters participated by mail because of pandemic restrictions. Malinowski appeared to have a clear lead on election night — which narrowed into a close victory as more mail-in ballots came in over several days.

“We could still have a long week or two weeks possibly,” warned Patrick Murray, the director of Monmouth University's Polling Institute.

But Republican strategist Mike DuHaime cautioned on Twitter that an analysis of who’s voting early “only matters if you add a likely voter screen.”

“If early voters were very likely to vote on Election Day anyway based on their vote history … no advantage. But if one party is turning out many more low-propensity voters … there’s the advantage,” he wrote in response to a tweet from a Gothamist reporter about the high Democratic turnout so far in the 7th District.

Mail-in ballots received up to six days after Election Day will be counted, as long as they’re postmarked by Nov. 8. Extremely close races could take even longer to call, with time also allowed to cure, or fix, ballots with signature issues, or to address problems like those caused if a voting machine malfunctions.

A smoother count?

Recent legislative reforms may speed the process of counting and reporting some votes, and help clear up confusion around the process that follows Election Day.

County elections workers will now have five days before Election Day to open mailed ballots and get them ready to be scanned on election night. The penalties for the premature release of any information about the opened ballots have been increased.

The elections offices must publish the number of mailed ballots that have been received, but not yet counted. This change is meant to mitigate the misperception that large swings in vote totals after Election Day are caused by fraud — and make it clearer that they occur because some mailed ballots are still being counted.

The state attorney general recently announced that his office and its Division on Civil Rights are establishing a voter protection initiative for the 2022 general election. The program includes a staffed hotline and a focus on identifying and addressing any voting rights or civil rights violations that come up during early voting or on Election Day.

“The right to vote is sacred, and we will do everything in our power to safeguard that right,” said Attorney General Matthew Platkin. “Now more than ever, it is critical that we ensure that New Jerseyans do not face intimidation, discrimination, or harassment when exercising their constitutional right to vote.”

How to vote by mail

Requests to county clerks’ offices for mail-in ballots were due Nov. 1, but the ballots can be returned as late as 8 p.m. on Election Day. They can be sent through the post office (as long as they’re postmarked by that time) or deposited in drop boxes. More information from the state Division of Elections can be found here. A voter who was sent a mail-in ballot but who still arrives at the polls on Election Day will be given a provisional ballot, to be counted after officials determine that person has not returned the mail-in version.

How to vote early, in person

Multiple in-person polling places are available, but they may not always be the same locations cited for Election Day voting on a resident’s ballot (and those locations may have changed because of redistricting this year). Each county designates its own locations, which are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. No appointments are necessary. Polling locations are here.

This story has been updated with additional information, and to reflect new early vote tallies for Wednesday that were made available mid-day Thursday.