TRENTON — In his toughest words against President Donald Trump since the start of the pandemic five months ago, Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday said that the president and his re-election campaign are trying to “delegitimize our November election.”

Murphy’s comments followed the campaign suing New Jersey in federal court over the Democrat’s plan to conduct the general election mostly through the mail.

Murphy added Wednesday that this “is becoming a full-throated propaganda campaign to undermine the election itself.”

“The Trump campaign is embarking on a brazen attempt to sow fear and confusion and to delegitimize our elections and cast doubt on our democratic process,” Murphy said. “They’re trying to distract us from focusing on our future. But we will not be distracted. Our plans for November will move forward. If vote by mail is good enough for the president, it is good enough for all of us.”

Through an executive order issued by Murphy last week, all of the state’s active registered voters will receive a mail-in ballot and postage-paid return envelope starting Oct. 5. Voters will have the option to return their ballots through the mail, deposit them in a secure drop box that county election boards will set out or hand them in to a poll worker on Election Day. Voters can also vote through a provisional ballot at a polling place. Half of every county's polling places will have to be open, with at least one in each municipality. Murphy said voting by mail will keep people safe.

The campaign’s lawsuit was joined by the state Republican Party, whose chairman called the plan an "unlawful power grab by New Jersey Democrats" that is open to fraud, citing a May municipal election in Paterson that ended with a councilman, a councilman-elect and two others being charged with fraud while hundreds of ballots were found in a mailbox in Paterson and in Haledon.

Murphy has said that the criminal investigation in Paterson is a “positive data point” because it shows that people who try to “screw” with an election will be caught and prosecuted.

In recent weeks, the U.S. Postal Service has turned into a political football as Trump has continued to sow doubts on the integrity of the upcoming election and of mail-in voting, although he has voted by absentee ballot and he and his surrogates have encouraged supporters to vote by mail as well.

Adding fuel to the fire, Trump recently stated that stalled negotiations with Congressional Democrats “means they don't get the money” to “have the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” which, he added, “will turn out to be fraudulent.”

Murphy noted Wednesday that voting by mail is not new in New Jersey and that five states have been conducting elections mostly by mail already.

“Our democracy is stronger and fairer when all voters have the right not just to cast a ballot but to cast that ballot in confidence,” Murphy said. “The president’s campaign is putting itself on record as wanting to delegitimize our November election instead of working with us to ensure that voting rights are upheld alongside public health.”

Murphy’s pointed comments about Trump, even if directed at his campaign, was a departure from the cordial approach that the progressive Democrat has taken with the Trump administration during the pandemic, avoiding any criticism of the president’s handling of the devastating public health crisis. More than 14,000 state residents have died from COVID-19; nationally, 172,000 people have died.

New Jersey conducted its delayed July primary almost entirely by mail. Murphy noted that the participation rate was the second highest on record for state primaries despite not having any contested presidential contests.

“The sanctity of our democratic processes must be and will be preserved,” Murphy said. “As the president and his team try to delegitimize our election and impact the health and safety of millions of New Jerseyans, we will defend our rights vigorously and we will not back down. So as they say, bring it on.”

2020 Election: NJ changing the way you vote

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