Two candidates seeking recounts in close Somerset County local races need to convince a Superior Court judge that there is reason to believe the votes were counted incorrectly.
Republican Frank DelRocco lost his bid for a seat on the Raritan Borough Council by seven votes against Democrat Adam Armahizer. In Hillsborough, Democrat Erryn Murphy, a teacher who came within 46 votes of unseating interim GOP incumbent Robert Britting. Both want votes counted again before their governing bodies reorganize next month.
But Somerset County Assignment Judge Kevin Shanahan is taking a more literal view of a statute that says candidates are not entitled to automatic recounts.
“It doesn’t reference X amount of votes being a presumption of a recount, Shanahan said. “It says that the court has to look and decide whether there’s sufficient, competent, credible evidence showing there’s a reason to believe an error was made, and that that claimed error warrants a recount.”
Some judges in other vicinages are more quick to allow a recount in close races.
Deputy Attorney General Debra Allen, representing the Somerset County Board of Elections, said in a brief that they had no position on the recount requests, but that proceeded to voice some opposition during two short court hearings this afternoon.
“A candidate must present sufficient, competent, credible evidence showing that there was a reason to believe that an error was made in the tabulation of the vote,” Allen said. “Based on the allegations in the petition, we do not see that there were any specific errors alleged. If anything, they were speculative.”
Allen also noted that there would be challenges in completing a fast recount, including a special referendum in one school district.
“The thing is the election statutes have not caught up with the fact that there was and early voting period and that there’s going to be special school elections up by executive order of our governor to move them to December 13th,” Alen said. “So that complicates things in terms of the holding and preparing for those elections and any post-election matters that would need to be handled via the care process and such.”
Somerset election officials are also hampered by a workforce problem: the county does not carry over vacation days from one year to the next, so the Board of Elections is short on employees available to conduct a recount.
Shanahan gave the candidates until December 12 to file briefs and said he might hold a hearing, if necessary, on December 14.
DelRocco filed his recount petition on November 25 and Murphy on November 28, but it took the judge until today to hold the hearing.
Armahizer flipped the seat of retiring GOP Councilman Paul Giraldi. Britting was appointed earlier this year after COVID issues forced newly-elected Councilman Steve Cohen to resign after just six weeks in office.