New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has won his re-election, according to the Associated Press, after nearly 24-hours of ballot counting that left the race too close to call. The close race was a shocking turnabout after Murphy had led his Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli by double digits in most polls.

Murphy’s lead is about 19,000 votes as of Wednesday evening. He would be the first Democrat reelected as governor in the Garden State since 1977, when Brendan Byrne won a second term.

Ciattarelli, known as a moderate when he was a state assemblyman but ran further right during his gubernatorial campaign, criticizing LGBTQ issues being taught in schools, has not yet conceded. However, the ballots that are still uncounted leave him with a narrow path to victory because they are either in heavily Democratic counties or they are mailed ballots, which are used more by Democrats.

“With the candidates separated by a fraction of a percent out of 2.4 million ballots cast, it’s irresponsible of the media to make this call when the New Jersey Secretary of State doesn’t even know how many ballots are left to be counted,” said Stami Williams, spokeswoman for the Ciattarelli campaign in a Tweet.

Counties are still continuing to tally votes. An unknown amount of ballots will continue to arrive by mail and will be counted as long as they were postmarked by November 2nd and arrive by Monday.

This year, voters also had nine days to cast early, in-person ballots for the first time.

“The public wants results as fast as possible,” Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin said. “We're so used to when we knew results on election night but that's not the way the system is set up now.”

Durkin said, like other counties, Essex used brand new voting machines this year. He said the counting will take some time while the county waits for results from 56 districts that did not turn in results when the polls closed. He said poll workers are supposed to remove the cartridge that holds the vote tallies inside the voting machines but it’s unclear what happened.

In order to retrieve the machines after the election, a judge has to issue an order, which Durkin said he received by Wednesday afternoon. Durkin said usually about 20-25 districts out of more than 500 don’t return results.

“It's all part of the process, it does happen along the way,” Durkin said. “Obviously people don't know about it when there's large margins and so when it comes to a close race, the process is magnified.”

Hudson County is also waiting for results from 34 machines, the clerk’s office said.

Election workers go through stacks of mail-in ballots

Board workers Bernadette Witt, left, and JoAnn Bartlett, right, process and double-check mail-in ballots for Bergen County in Hackensack, N.J.

arrow
Board workers Bernadette Witt, left, and JoAnn Bartlett, right, process and double-check mail-in ballots for Bergen County in Hackensack, N.J.
Seth Wenig/AP/Shutterstock

In Bergen County, Deputy Clerk Steve Chong said the county, which is the state's largest, sent out 86,000 vote-by-mail ballots and so far about half of those were returned and counted.

“The machine ballot has been all counted, 100% reporting,” Chong said. “And early voting, we are in the process of finishing. Right now, we are still waiting for vote-by-mail, more vote-by-mail to come.”

The state also debuted new electronic polling books this year which caused some delays.

“We started hearing throughout the day about voters unable to access their polling place. We heard stories of places being inoperable because of technical difficulties, because of wifi issues because of computer issues,” said Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey “What it resulted is people being disenfranchised or turned away and being left unable to vote.”

The ACLU and the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit on Tuesday, asking a judge to extend polling hours by an hour-and-a-half to 9:30 p.m. due to the glitches. A judge denied the request.

Sinha said problems were reported in Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex and Cumberland counties.

Reported delays lasted as much as four hours.

“We’re talking about some of the most populated counties in the state, these are some central locations in the state,” he said. “There may be many poll sites that were unable to be opened and we just didn’t hear about it.”

Murphy is expected to address supporters at an Asbury Park "victory party" at 10 p.m. Wednesday.