A Superior Court Judge approved Republican requests for recounts in two Gloucester County municipalities but denied a request for the same in freeholder races there Friday morning.
At the end of a hearing that ran for nearly two hours, Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem Superior Court Judge Benjamin Telsey ruled that, while the Republican petitioners did not submit evidence to support claims that the state’s mostly mail election caused counting errors, results in Harrison and Woolwich were close enough to warrant a new tally.
Republican Daniel Ross trailed Independent Township Committeewoman Julie DeLaurentis by 24 votes in Harrison, 3,090-3,066. That margin represents less than 0.4% of the votes received by those two candidates and less than 0.3% of all votes cast in the race.
Democrat Richard Pescatore finished last there with 2,092 votes.
In Woolwich, Republican Jonathan Fein filed for a recount after final results showed him trailing Democratic mayor Vernon Marino by 83 votes, 3,714-3,631. The margin accounts for about 1.1% of votes received by those two candidates and roughly 0.6% of all ballots cast in the four-candidate race.
The freeholder race was significantly less close. There, Republican Nick DeSilvio filed for a recount after finishing 1,944 votes behind Freeholder Lyman Barnes, a Democrat. The gap between the two candidates there amounted to the about 1.2% of votes received by DeSilvio and Barnes.
While it made up about 0.4% of all votes cast in the race, six candidates ran for three seats there.
The approved recounts were granted solely on the basis of their closeness. Telsey discounted certifications submitted by Gloucester County Republican Chair Jacci Vigilante, Gloucester Republican Committee Secretary Lisa Rotte and DeSilvio on grounds they did not provide any hard evidence that suggested counting errors.
“This evidence is simply subjective at best and simply serves to express a generalized fear that the election process might not have been carried out as intended,” Telsey said. “There’s no evidence regarding which function of the machine was impacted by the software should one have even existed, and for those reasons, the court places no weight on the argument that there may have been an error in tabulation because of this alleged software issue.”
In the certifications, the voters raised issues about software and jamming errors on vote-by-mail ballots tabulation machines, but Telsey discounted those claims.
Because the Republicans did not raise those objections contemporaneously, doing so only on Dec. 4, more than a month after the election and two weeks after the election certification deadline, the certifications lacked any evidence suggesting those purported errors would have affected the final tallies.
A swath of other claims made in the certifications were discounted because they were raised issues relevant to an election challenge, not a recount.
The Judge did give some weight to a state-mandated audit that shifted a bare handful of votes in some Gloucester County towns. That audit found 47 uncounted ballots in Glassboro, which the Republicans argued should be extrapolated for a countywide error rate of about 2%, or enough that the result of the freeholder race could reasonably shift.
But Telsey said he considered that incident an outlier stemming from human error and ruled they were not evidence of widespread counting mistakes.
The judge gave the Board of Elections until next Friday to determine how and when the municipal recounts would be conducted. He did not mandate a start date because of concerns about spreading COVID-19.
Woolwich’s recount is expected to be completed in a single day, while Harrisons may take up to two.
Chris Dasti, of Dasti & Associates, represented the Republican petitioners, while Deputy Attorney General Dominic Giova argued on behalf of the Gloucester County Board of Elections and superintendent of elections.
Attorney John Carbone was present on behalf of the Gloucester County Clerk James Hogan, while William Tambusi appeared for the Democratic candidates, and John Alice represented the Gloucester Democratic Party.
Chris Wilson, a Republican who sought local office in Pitman, withdrew his request for a recount there on Dec. 1.