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Two Somerset County elections commissioners wanted to start counting votes in the race for control of the freeholder board on Friday afternoon, but the deputy attorney general representing the Board of Elections scooted out of work early on Friday and didn’t answer his cell phone, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
A Superior Court Judge was waiting on the phone to hear a petition filed on behalf of Democrat Melonie Marano, who leads GOP Freeholder Pat Walsh by 341 votes, but deputy attorney general George N. Cohen appeared to get an early start on the three-day weekend.
Now a count of provisional and vote-by-mail ballots will not begin until Tuesday. County offices are closed Monday in observance of Veterans Day.
Sharon Lauchiere, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office, declined comment on Saturday evening.
At a meeting of the Board of Elections on Friday morning, commissioner Karen Carroll, a Democrat, asked why the additional mail-in ballots received between Tuesday evening and Thursday afternoon could not be counted immediately.
The commissioners had previously agreed to begin the count next week.
The board administrator, Jerry Midgette, a Republican appointee, told Carroll that the technician who runs the machine used to count ballots was not in the building, according to an affidavit filed with the court.
“Not more than five minutes later, the technician who was not in Somerset County today walked into the board room where we were meeting,” Christian Mastondrea, a Democratic elections commissioner, said in a certification he made as part of court filings. “Both Commissioner Carroll and I later learned that he was present at Administrator Midgette’s request and was in the Clerk’s office about the time of our meeting.”
According to Mastondrea, about 980 VBM ballots were returned before the close of business on Thursday.
“We were then informed this was a large number to process, yet other larger counties are currently counting those votes today,” Mastrondrea said.
Paul Swanicke, an attorney for Marano, asked the court to order the Board of Elections to immediately begin counting votes. He also asked that Midgette be “restrained and enjoined” from touching any of the uncounted ballots and asked for the opportunity to “examine and copy” them.
Lauchiere declined to say whether Attorney General Gurbir Grewal planned for any close elections by ensuring that one of his deputies would work a full day on Friday, or be reachable by phone.
This story was updated at 10:40 AM.