NJ launches investigation after votes were double-counted in Monmouth County
❎ Problems found in 4 Monmouth County towns chalked up to ‘election software problem’
❎ Miscounted votes appear poised to change 1 local school board race
❎ Republicans criticize lack of probe in a Democratic county
TRENTON – The state has announced an investigation into the Monmouth County election process last fall after inaccurate vote tallies were discovered that could possibly change the outcome of one local race.
Following the November election, the final three seats for the board of education in Ocean Township had been decided by a 20-vote margin.
In December, a “technical problem with Election Systems & Software’s (ES&S) election software system” was discovered, which had led to wrong vote counting in four towns, according to the Monmouth County election office.
Among Monmouth County’s 466 voting districts, counting errors were found in Belmar, Fair Haven, Ocean Township and Tinton Falls.
Attorney General Matthew Platkin and Director of the Division on Civil Rights Sundeep Iyer announced the probe on Tuesday. It will be overseen by former state Attorney General Peter C. Harvey.
The Republican-led county wasn't the only place to experience voting problems this November but it becomes the first county where the state is taking a closer look.
OPRA request in Belmar helped flag ballot miscounts
As reported by TapInto, Belmar resident Jim Bean, a former town councilman, had filed an Open Public Records Act request for the election results “out of curiosity.”
When he received the voting data by December, he found a 311 vote discrepancy in the Belmar race for mayor, according to the same report.
That many ballots appeared to have been counted twice in several municipalities, Bean said.
Issues in 4 Monmouth County towns chalked up to ‘election software problem’
On Jan. 18, the Monmouth County Election Offices confirmed that a “technical problem with election software system” had “excluded a step that allowed some votes to be counted twice.”
The following day, the office issued another statement in which it asked state officials “to create a new state-mandated test and checklist to perform before elections to ensure the election software works properly.”
Republican Monmouth County Commissioner Director Tom Arnone issued his own statement on Jan. 19, asking to meet with the election software company. “Please know Monmouth County is leaving no stone unturned to fully get to the bottom of this and to make sure it never happens again.”
The Monmouth County Superintendent of Elections Office and Monmouth County Board of Elections on Friday said they were pursuing a full recount and recheck of the four towns affected by the errors.
“We have a very confusing structure here in New Jersey,” state Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, said, pointing to the varied roles of the County Clerk’s Office (led by an elected Republican), and the appointed Board of Elections and superintendent of elections.
“I think there needs to be accountability here. I know they’re all blaming the software company — but who’s overseeing the software company, somebody’s overseeing them, they’re a vendor,” Gopal said.
He added the candidates most impacted by the errors, in Ocean Township, had gotten “no information” yet on what the next steps would be in the recount process.
Ocean Township School Board seat now uncertain
In the election where a winner had been declared based on a 20-vote margin, the vote now appeared to favor the previously losing candidate by a razor-thin, one-vote margin, according to Gopal on Tuesday.
“Jeff and I have been thrust into something we couldn’t have imagined by circumstances outside our control,” Steve Clayton said in a Facebook post, adding they both were stressing “the importance of civility and respect throughout this process.”
Jeffrey Weinstein said they "have been very friendly, respectful and sensitive to each other throughout, but we are dismayed that this occurred.”
“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,” Weinstein said. “This is not a republican or democratic issue.”
Same general election, different ‘human error’ issues in Mercer County
Unlike the Monmouth County situation in which the vendor, ES&S “has accepted responsibility for the software issue,” a stuck ballot debacle in Mercer County left the blame being thrown around.
Dominion Voting Systems, the company that made voting machines, said their equipment was not the issue but that it was a printing error. The printing company in turn, also denied responsibility.
A county investigation ultimately found “human error” rested with a person who programmed the voting machines.
NJGOP criticizes different state responses in 2 counties
State Republicans have long called for a state investigation into Mercer County's election issues.
Bob Hugin, chairman of the New Jersey Republican State Committee, previously slammed those errors as "unacceptable in a modern society.”
On Tuesday, Hugin said to Insider NJ that the NJGOP had yet to receive a response to its November request and called it a “Tale of Two Counties.”
He said the Monmouth County incident had received “prompt attention from the Attorney General at the demand of a Democratic Senator.”
Last week, however, Commissioner Director Arnone said that Monmouth County Election Offices had already been working with the Attorney General’s Office and the Secretary of State’s Office to investigate what happened.
Requests to the Monmouth County Republican Committee for comment on Tuesday were not immediately answered.
State probe aimed at ID’ing voter rights issues and recommending reforms
Harvey served as state Attorney General from 2003 to 2006. He also previously served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey.
Harvey’s law firm, Patterson, Belknap, Webb, and Tyler, would determine whether any person or entity involved in the Monmouth County elections had engaged in any illegal practice under the state’s Civil Rights Act.
The firm, hired on a pro bono basis, would also propose public recommendations for reform for future elections in the state.
“Based on public reports regarding the 2022 General Election in Monmouth County, a full investigation is warranted to encourage and preserve public trust in our elections, including recommendations for reforms to benefit the conduct of contests statewide,” Platkin said in a written statement.
“Elections are the cornerstone of our democracy, and our elections must always be free and fair,” Iyer said in the same release. “It is critical that our elections comply with all applicable civil rights laws. Voters in New Jersey deserve no less.”
Erin Vogt is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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