Former U.S. vice president Joe Biden secured an unsurprising victory in the New Jersey Democratic primary on Tuesday, winning more than 85% of the vote over U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who remained on the ballot despite suspending his presidential campaign in April. The race represented just a small number of contests with a clear winner at the immediate conclusion of the pandemic-era primary, in which mail-in voting served as the main method of casting a ballot, with final results unlikely for several weeks.
Biden, who won New York last month, had already clinched the Democratic nomination for president in May. As expected, President Donald Trump, who ran unopposed, also won his New Jersey primary.
With coronavirus still posing ongoing health risks to the public, voters had the option of either mailing in their sealed ballot, placing it in specially-marked drop boxes, or handing it in at their local board of election site. New Jersey residents also visited their polling sites to cast a provisional ballot.
Outside the Don Bosco Technology Academy in Paterson on primary day, voters slowly trickled in. Most said they showed up to vote in person because they never received a ballot in the mail. One person said she lost it and another said he forgot to mail it back and wanted to make sure his vote counted.
“There’s no line; we just had to fill out a manual ballot. That’s the first time doing that in my life, but other than that it was fine, no issues,” said Loranetta Anderson, 53, a caseworker.
Given the voter fraud scandal that rocked the local May election in Paterson--which has sparked a criminal probe--Anderson said she felt more confident coming in person, despite the ongoing pandemic. “It made me leery of mailing anything in,” she said.
Other voters said every poll worker was masked, there was plenty of hand sanitizer, and they were given glue sticks to seal their ballots so they wouldn’t have to take off their masks. Voters we interviewed said they were in and out after 5 to 10 minutes.
But county clerks say the entire experience has been stressful, driven largely by the confusion that existed in advance of the primary vote. Mary Melfi, the clerk for Hunterdon County, says she had been trying to help the many voters who were confounded by the process.
“They thought there were polling places. They didn’t want to vote by mail. They wanted to go to the polling place; they didn’t understand there were no machines; they don’t understand what a provisional ballot is,” Melfi said. Clerks say they didn’t have enough time to prepare for so many ballots to be mailed to voters, and the huge number of vote-by-mail ballots also stressed the U.S. Postal Service.
“The postal service has never dealt with this volume,” said Ocean County Clerk Scott Colabella. And neither has his office, which had to deal with pallets of ballots and envelopes arriving, and workers required to wear masks and socially distance from each other.
Listen to editor Nancy Solomon's radio story for WNYC:
While determining a winner for the Democratic presidential primary was a cinch--given the overwhelming number of votes Biden received--outcomes for several races won't be officially called for weeks.
"No close races are going to be called tonight," Patel said on the Brian Lehrer Show on Tuesday night as he asked the public for patience.
2nd Congressional District
Tuesday's high profile congressional races included South Jersey's 2nd Congressional District, where party favorite Brigid Callahan Harrison conceded to Democratic progressive candidate Amy Kennedy, the wife of Patrick J. Kennedy, son of the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy. The concession came despite just a partial number of returns showing Kennedy in the lead.
The outcome dealt a blow to Democratic party boss George Norcross, whose powerful political machine (a.k.a. the "Norcross machine) handicapped plenty of primaries in the past thanks to his statewide influence.
The winner of the race will appear on the ballot for the November general election, where they will take on incumbent and former Democrat turned Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew. Van Drew switched to the GOP in December 2019, the day after he voted against impeaching Trump. He later pledged "undying support" to Trump, infuriating New Jersey democrats.
Van Drew had his own primary to worry about, though preliminary returns show him with a large chunk of the vote over challenger Robert Patterson. In a statement, Norcross said his organization is working with Kennedy "to take this seat back" to the Democrats.
3rd Congressional District
Businessman David Richter leads in the GOP primary for the 3rd Congressional District seat, securing two-thirds of the vote over Kate Gibbs, with just over half of precincts reporting. Richter seeks to flip the blue seat to red, as they advance in the November general to take on Rep. Andy Kim, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.
Richter, the former CEO of Hill International, initially eyed a GOP run against Rep. Jeff Van Drew, but pivoted once Drew turned Republican. The south central New Jersey district covers Burlington and Ocean counties.
5th Congressional District
Preliminary results in the race for the 5th Congressional District, spanning all of northern New Jersey, show incumbent Rep. Josh Gottheimer with a lead over Arati Kreibich, a Democrat in line with the progressive politics of Bernie Sanders. Kreibich had once volunteered for Gottheimer's campaign.
Gottheimer, a centrist dubbed "Trump's favorite Democrat," is ahead of Kreibich, a council member for Glen Rock, NJ, with a small number of precincts reporting.
Kreibich, who was endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was inspired to run against Gottheimer after he voted in favor of an emergency border funding bill in June 2019.
On the Republican side, Frank Palotta currently leads rivals James Baldini, John McCann, and Hector Castillo.
8th Congressional District
In the northeast, Rep. Albio Sires, the long-serving legislator for the 8th Congressional District, has a commanding lead over challenger Hector Oseguera, an analyst with the financial services firm UBS.
While the rank-and-file incumbent has been able to stave off challengers to maintain his seat the last seven years, Oseguera's candidacy has worried Sires. In the last few weeks, Sires reactivated his Twitter account to trade barbs with Oseguera, who's accused Sires of adding little value to the district. Sires, for his part, has some political pull in local races within the district, playing a role in helping Gabriel Rodriguez get elected mayor of West New York last year.
The district covers Hudson, Essex, Bergen, and Union counties, and is the only district dominated by Latino voters. The winner moves on to face Jason Mushnick, a Republican who ran unopposed in the primary.
U.S. Senate Results
While some races were still close to call, there was very little competition for U.S. Senator Cory Booker, who overwhelmingly won his primary race, defeating grassroots activist Lawrence Hamm.
For the GOP primary, early figures show Hirsh Singh with a slight lead over rivals Rikin Mehta and Patricia Flanagan.
Board of Election offices for each county in New Jersey are expected to begin tallying the outstanding mail-in ballots on July 14th, so long as they were postmarked by July 7th. Much like New York, the count will prove especially critical in tight races around the state.