Friday, November 16, 2007

Ballot Recount

Update: Alyssa Passeggio is reporting that Matawan Democratic party Chairman Joseph "Bud" Mullaney said the mayoral recount is rescheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 28.

Several states and municipalities have mandatory recounts whenever the difference between two candidates is less than 0.5% and below a certain threshold, i.e. less than 1,000 or 2,000 votes. Sadly, neither New Jersey nor Matawan has such a provision. Following a loss by one vote in Matawan’s mayoral election, Councilman Buccellato has chosen to request a recount. To the best of my knowledge, here’s how it works.

New Jersey requires that all recount requests be made by the 2nd Saturday following the election. That effectively makes the 2nd Friday the deadline for filing a petition for recount.

The petition is reviewed by a Superior Court Judge. The petitioner only has to provide an evidentiary basis for his “belief” that an “error” had been made in the ballot count. However, since the judge has the discretion to order a remedy tailored to the initial complaint, Councilman Buccellato will likely need to claim that he heard of problems in both the electronic balloting and the mail-in/provisional ballots. Otherwise, the judge could order that only one be recounted but not the others. The Councilman will also need to guarantee that he will cover all costs/fees of the recount.

Next, the judge will confer with the county to set a date for the recount. The county will then appoint an election auditor who will be responsible for the recount but does not need to personally oversee it. Often, the county will request the town clerk to oversee the recount but the initiator has the right to object to any selection.

All ballots, whether paper or electronic, and the voting machines are stored in a secure location. The county auditor’s representative will oversee a non-partisan three person panel that has at least one registered Democrat and one registered Republican. The panel will first survey the machines to ensure they function properly.

The electronic machines have multiple redundant systems to ensure that votes are captured and stored in independent areas. Those votes will be recounted through electronic means to ensure that each stored value is consistent throughout the system. If the panel chooses, they can also request a manual printout of each vote. The machines take a “screenshot” of each vote submitted to allow for a manual recount.

The panel will certify the machine count and then review the paper ballots. Each ballot is approved or declined based on majority vote but a dispute on any ballot could be grounds for an appeal.

The recount is public and the candidates will be allowed to be present but all non-officials must be physically separated from the recount process.

Once the recount is complete, the new totals are then used by the county to certify the election. If the losing candidate chooses to appeal the decision, a higher court will render a final decision. There is only one appeal which is automatically expedited.

I do not know of any contested election since electronic balloting that has been overturned through a recount. If anyone has additional information, please let me know.
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Truth In Matawan said...

Great summation of the events taking place during a recount, thank you.

What if during the process, a vote is thrown out, or a missed vote is counted, and it winds up a tie? Do we have a run-off?

Aberdeener said...

I didn't discuss it but one possibility is for the Councilman to try and disqualify an absentee ballot or provisional ballot.

Such a method effectively erases that person's vote. While tempting, I hope that doesn't happen.

In the event of a tie, the county will set a new election date. That election would likely take place in early December.

Truth In Matawan said...

Thanks, you continue to be very knowledgeable on this topic. How can we find out who the 9 write-in votes were cast for?

Aberdeener said...

Normally, no one cares about the write-in ballots since they're often meant to be funny or a sign of protest. If you like, I can contact the county clerk's office to get the names.

Truth In Matawan said...

Normally, I'd agree completely--but in an election this close, those write-ins definitely came into play. I don't know of any organized third-party campaigns, but Councilman Buccellato can look at those votes as being partly complicit in his loss--as can Mayor Aufseeser if she loses the recount.

Aberdeener said...

Looks like Councilman Buccellato won't have any trouble financing the recount. Monmouth County Republicans have just awarded his firm a $125,000 contract despite the fact that his bid was $30,000 - $40,000 higher than all the other bids.

Truth In Matawan said...

Scandalous! How can this even be allowed? I smell a new post coming on...