Officials in Monmouth County, New Jersey will recount election results from November races in four towns, after an issue with electronic vote tabulations caused votes to be counted twice — potentially changing the results of one school board race.
Superior Court Judge David F. Bauman authorized recounts in four towns — Belmar, Fair Haven, Ocean Township, and Tinton Falls — county officials said in a statement provided by spokesperson Karla Roth-Bardinas late Thursday night.
The recount and recheck will begin Feb. 8 at the county Board of Elections office in Freehold.
Only one race was close enough that the person originally declared a winner could lose his seat. Official tallies in November gave Steve Clayton a 20-vote win over Jeffrey Weinstein for the Ocean Township school board. But Clayton told the Asbury Park Press informal recounts now show him one vote behind, despite already being sworn in.
The state Division of Civil Rights has also hired a firm to investigate whether anything unlawful happened during the election, and to make recommendations for future election reform. Former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey, who served in the role from 2003 to 2006, will oversee the probe.
“The integrity of the voting process remains the top priority of Monmouth County Election Offices, and we are glad the will of the voters will be carried out,” the statement said.
Election Systems and Software — the company of the election machines used in the county — spokesperson Katina Granger told Gothamist recently via email that human error was ultimately to blame for the problem, which affected results in six voting districts spread across the four municipalities. The company’s systems are used broadly nationwide, including in several New Jersey counties.
Granger said a USB drive with results was “loaded twice into the results reporting module.” She said safeguards in its software would still normally prevent votes from being counted twice, but a technician reinstalling software over the summer skipped a step and that feature wasn’t working.
Her email said the error was found in a review of the election requested by county officials, but didn’t specify what prompted that request.
On Nov. 28, board Chief Clerk Tracee Johnson wrote to state officials saying a post-election audit hadn't found any issues aside from stray marks on some ballots and a paper jam that kept one ballot from dropping into a voting machine sleeve.
But the New Jersey Globe political blog cited former Belmar Councilman James Bean saying he’d filed a public records request in November after noticing inconsistencies in election results, and that he reached out to election officials at the time but didn’t hear back until December. The blog is run by longtime Republican politician David Wildstein, the confessed mastermind of the Bridgegate scandal during Gov. Chris Christie's administration.
The Attorney General’s Office has declined to comment on whether or when it notified other counties of the issue, or what guidance it gave them, But officials in Warren County and Gloucester County, which both use ES&S systems, told New Jersey Monitor they didn’t believe their vote counts were compromised. Warren County officials also said they double-checked their votes, after learning about the Monmouth issues.
Weinstein, in a Facebook post earlier this month, said he’d been disappointed to learn of his seeming loss in November. But he said now, “I am excited, but also feel for Steve [Clayton] and what he is now going through.”
“Technology, people or processes or some combination did not work as planned. There are lots of points to address, questions to answer and elements to fix. We must ensure that every vote is counted. We must receive specific details on why this occurred in this election, and all parties involved must work together on addressing the root cause in a collaborative manner,” he wrote. “This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. Our elections must be flawless with timely checks and balances."
Monmouth was at least the second New Jersey county to see significant issues with its November elections. Optical scanners on machines used by Mercer County communities were unable to read ballots printed for the November general election, delaying counts by days.
And officials and candidates in some communities reported being told ballots had gone missing, though ultimately ballots were recovered from voting machines after being reopened under a court order. County prosecutors did not find any wrongdoing connected to those issues, and state authorities have not announced any inquiry into those matters.