The counting of vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots added additional drama to a series of close races in New Jersey. Once those totals were added into the in-person voting tallies they often turned the tide in close races in favor of the democratic candidate.

VBM ballots were, in large part, the difference in the race for governor. Once totals were added from precincts in Trenton, Newark, Paterson and other democrat strongholds, Phil Murphy erased the lead Jack Ciattarelli had held election night and pulled ahead of his republican challenger Wednesday morning.

In Bergen County, Ciattarelli and a slate of republican county candidates led in-person vote counts, but once early voting and VBM ballots were counted, Ciattarelli and local candidates found themselves trailing. That included Bridget Kelly, who was trying to unseat Democrat John Hogan for County Clerk. When in-person votes were tabulated, Kelly appeared to have won. When VBM totals were added, she lost.

VBM counts upended another seeming republican upset in Legislative District 11. Monmouth County State Senator Vin Gopal appeared to be losing his seat to Republican Lori Annetta. Now, he has about a thousand vote lead and has declared victory.

One race where this was not the case, however, was in Legislative District 3. Truck driver Ed Durr is maintaining his lead on Senate President Steve Sweeney. Durr, who has never held elected office, appears poised to do what even the New Jersey Education Association could not: take out the legislatures most powerful democrat.

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The teachers union spent $6 million dollars four years ago to try and defeat Sweeney, who had backed pensions reforms the union opposed.

Durr spent only a few hundred dollars of his own money on the race, and could own one of the biggest upsets in New Jersey political history.

Even though conspiracy theorists will point to delays in vote counting as evidence of election fraud, there is no evidence of anything nefarious involving VBM and early voting, or that vote counters deliberately withheld totals in tight races.

Elections officials in each of New Jersey's 21 counties set their own rules as to when VBM, absentee and early voting numbers are reported, which could account for any delay. This year, they were also dealing with new technologies that could have also delayed some reporting.

It is also important to note that VBM does favor democrats. While we did not know who someone using VBM voted for, we did know in advance the party affiliation of the voter requesting a VBM ballot. (No voter names were disclosed.) Democrats requested VBM ballots by a more than 2-to-1 margin over republicans, especially in urban areas.

Vote counting will also continue into next week, as more VBM ballots arrive. As long as ballots were postmarked by 8 p.m. November 2, they must be counted and added to vote totals.

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