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Democratic Atlantic County Commissioner candidate Celeste Fernandez.

Deputy attorney general suggests limited recount in Atlantic’s at-large freeholder race

After audit, Risley leads Fernandez by just 380 votes

By Nikita Biryukov, December 07 2020 12:04 pm

A deputy attorney general representing the Atlantic County Board of Elections asked that a recount of ballots cast in at-large freeholder races there be limited to 2% or 3% of ballots cast in that race Monday.

The filing follows the board’s completion of its election audit, which added five votes to Republican incumbent John Risley’s tally and six votes to Democratic challenger Celeste Fernandez.

With the numbers updated, Risley, who finished second in a four-person race for two seats, leads Fernandez by just 380 votes, 66,432-66,052. The margin accounts for less than three-tenths of the votes those two candidates received.

But election officials in Atlantic are concerned about the practicability of a full hand recount. They have similar concerns about Fernandez’s proposal for a hand recount of roughly 22,000 over- and under-voted ballots.

While the board expects retallying 2% or 3% of the ballots cast in the freeholder race to take at most two days, they cautioned that a full recount of the roughly 143,000 ballots cast in Atlantic County would, at best, take the county’s ballot-counting machines at least 48 hours to tally.

That doesn’t include time needed to segregate and hand-count the 22,000 over- or under-voted ballots. That process could take up to two weeks, Atlantic County Board of Elections clerk Susan Sandman said in a filing.

Even if the county wished to recount only those 22,000 ballots, they’d still need to identify them. That’d require all ballots cast in the county be run through the counting machines.

“Such a request is more akin to an election contest, which is not proper at this stage of the proceedings,” Deputy Attorney General Beau Wilson said in the filing.

In either case, the county would have to rehire employees to complete the count.

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