The anticipated delay of certified results from the November 3 general election could potentially push controversies regarding close elections into the new year and beyond the time when winners of the 2020 election take office.
Multiple election officials have told the New Jersey Globe that it will take longer than usual to count votes cast in a general election conducted primarily through vote-by-mail.
Nearly 5.8 million ballots will be automatically sent to voters, and a limited number of election machines will likely result in a time-consuming task of counting a record number of paper ballots.
The state has set November 20 to certify elections, a date several election officials say is completely unrealistic.
County clerks have an immovable deadline of 3 PM on Monday, December 14 – 40 days after the general election. That’s when New Jersey’s fourteen electors can cast their ballots for president, so results must be certified by then.
The schedule for challenges to elections begins with certification. Candidates – or in some cases, a group of just ten voters – can’t initiate a recount until the final results are certified.
After the recount, candidates have the option of challenging the results in court.
It’s enormously unlikely that the judicial process would finish by the time winners of election are to due to be sworn in during the first week in January.
In the 2020 Republican U.S. Senate primary, Hirsh Sigh filed recounts in all 21 counties after losing his race to Rik Mehta by a not terribly close two percentage points.
Some counties granted the recount and others rejected his bid.
In one vicinage, Superior Court Judge Jen S. Chetney has scheduled a hearing on whether to recount ballots in Gloucester Cumberland and Salem counties for August 31 – 55 days after the election and more than three weeks after the results were certified.
New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way certified the July 7 primary election on August 9, the day before county clerks were statutorily required to hold a general election ballot drawing.
The reason it took 33 days for the results to be certified?
* Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order allowed for ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted, as long as they arrived at county election offices by close of business on July 14. That marked an extension from two days to seven, a practice Murphy has extended to the general election.
* A settlement of a lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of New Jersey and the NAACP gave voters until July 23 to cure deficiencies in their vote-by-mail ballot to prevent their votes from being disqualified.
It’s still not clear what the deadline will be for the general election. A Senate committee approved legislation this week that forces local election officials to quickly notify voters of technical glitches that could result in their disenfranchisement.
* Some counties sought and received a court order to allow for more time to count votes. Not every county owns and operates the same equipment. Essex can count about 40,000 votes per hour, while heavily-populated places like Bergen and Monmouth move more slowly.
Still, a mostly all vote-by-mail general election might not pose any more of a problem then usual.
Certified winners could still take office on time, but with the risk of being removed if the final results are reversed.
The process for challenging results is often a slow one.
Democrat Victoria Kilpatrick was elected mayor of Sayreville in November 2019 by three votes, 3,629 to 3,626, against Republican Arthur J. Rittenhouse, Jr.
Rittenhouse filed a challenge to the election on December 13, alleging that 45 provisional ballots were never counted.
Kilpatrick was sworn in on January y, but the court battle continues. Rittenhouse’s attorney opposed a motion to dismiss the case earlier this month.