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A stack of vote-by-mail ballots tossed in a bin on the floor of an apartment building in Belleville, New Jersey on April 25, 2020.

Highlights of Tuesdays’ all-VBM elections

Atlantic City referendum crushed, ballot tampering claims in Paterson and Irvington, and Spiller wins in Montclair

By David Wildstein, May 13 2020 1:55 am

Several key contests in New Jersey’s first election conducted entirely through vote-by-mail ballots remain undecided, including council races in Paterson and Irvington where allegations of tampering have delayed counts.

The May 12 election included a referendum to change the form of government in Atlantic City,  a court-ordered do-over of a council race in West Amwell, and non-partisan municipal and school board elections in 31 other municipalities.  The all-VBM elections were ordered by Gov. Phil Murphy in March in a bid to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Ballots postmarked by 8 PM in Tuesday will still be counted, as long as the U.S. Postal Service delivers them by close of business on Thursday.

The election was widely viewed as a test of an all-VBM election as Murphy considers doing the same thing for the July 7 primary election.

In some places, vote-by-mail ballots led to higher turnout in local elections.  But the quickly-assembled all-VBM elections also led to possible incidents of fraud, higher instances of ballot rejections by county election officials, and claims that low-income voters had challenges in the delivery of their ballots by letter carriers.

The deadly coronavirus pandemic forced candidates to cease in-person campaigning, including canvassing and attending local events, and adjust their campaigns strategies.

Tuesday’s highlights:

* A Superior Court Judge ordered Passaic County election officials to stop counting ballots at 8:30 PM and resume on Wednesday morning as federal and state law enforcement has launched an investigation into bulk VBM ballots for the Paterson council race that showed up in a just a handful of mailboxes.

* Sean Spiller, the vice president of the powerful New Jersey Education Association, was elected mayor of Montclair.  Four of Spiller’s five running mates won, giving him a 4-2 majority on the township council.

* Voters crushed a referendum to change the form of government in Atlantic City from a directly-elected mayor to a Council-Manager system.  Just 23% of the city supported the initiative.  Atlantic City For Good Government filed 3,033 signatures to get a change of government referendum on the ballot, but just 985 voters actually voted to change their form of government.

* Four incumbents were re-elected to the Nutley Town Commission and John V. Kelly III, the grandson of the former mayor and assemblyman, narrowly leads in his bid for the lone open seat.  The real contest is the race for mayor; by tradition, the top vote-getter gets the post and incumbent Joseph Scarpelli leads Mauro Tucci by just 19 votes.

* A slate headed by incumbent Mark Schwartz swept three seats on the Teaneck Township Council.

* Belleville Councilwoman Marie Strumolo Burke holds a narrow lead over challenger Carmine Mattia, the  business agent for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 827 and an ally of Mayor Michael Melham.  This race won’t be decided until later in the week.

* In Orange, where Mayor Dwayne Warren was easily re-elected, the race for the third at-large council seat is too close to call.  Weldon Montague leads Edward Marable 577-576. Dwight Homes is close behind with 546 ballots cast in his name.

* Ocean City Council Vice President Anthony Wilson trails challenger Jody Levchuk by 10 votes in the race for the 3d Ward seat.

* Essex County election officials are investigating possible ballot tampering in Irvington, where two ward council races are still undecided.   East Ward Councilman Paul Inman was unseated by Sean Evans, an ally of Mayor Tony Vauss.

* Ridgewood Councilwoman Bernadette Coughlan-Walsh was re-elected.  She will be joined by Lorraine Reynolds and Pamela Perron, who won two open seats on the Village Council.

* In the first partisan election of 2020, Republican Lucas Lyons was elected to the West Amwell Township Committee.  Lyons won the seat last November, but a judge ordered a special election after finding that Lyons had not lived in the township for the previous 12 months.

* Just two votes separate Bass River Commissioner Nicholas Capriglione from his challenger. Karl Swanseen.

* A school board slate backed by Hackensack Mayor John Labrosse won.  So did an incumbent-led slate in Ridgefield Park, where Mayor George Fosdick is retiring after nearly 40 years in local office, including 28 as mayor.

* Dr. Kenneth Conte, who died of complications from COVID-19 on April 23, was posthumously defeated in his bid for re-election to the Garfield Board of Education.

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