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South Hunterdon Regional High School. (Photo: South Hunterdon Regional School District via Facebook).

Recount goes forward in Hunterdon school referendum

By Joey Fox, December 10 2021 11:34 am

Superior Court Judge Michael F. O’Neill today ordered that a school district referendum held last month in Hunterdon County go to a recount, with the recount date set for December 14.

The South Hunterdon Regional School District, which comprises Lambertville, Stockton, and West Amwell, voted in November on whether to approve a $33.4 million bond issue to fund a new middle school and renovations to the existing Lambertville Public School.

West Amwell, which typically votes for Republicans, voted strongly against it, but Lambertville and Stockton were in favor, with the final result coming out to 1,773 votes in support and 1,771 votes against, a margin of only two votes.

The five Republican members of the West Amwell Township Committee proceeded to file a petition for a recount, which was opposed by the Hunterdon County Board of Elections and the Hunterdon County Clerk. Also joining the opposition was Deputy Attorney General Pamela Ullman, whose presence was not requested by the board of elections.

Matthew Moench, on behalf of the plaintiffs, stated in his arguments that such a close election warranted a recount on the merits, and that audits of elections in other parts of the state found small errors in machine-tallied vote counts – errors which, if they were present in the South Hunterdon referendum, could be enough to reverse the bond issue’s victory.

In response, Ullman argued that the results of an audit in municipalities outside the South Hunterdon Regional School District weren’t relevant to the case at hand.

“Of course I can see that these scanners are not infallible,” Ullman said. “There are errors, and there are always errors – it’s just the nature of how the machines operate… However, what the Fernandez case [a previous case involving a recount in Atlantic County] and the standard requires is a real reason to believe that there was an error in this particular count.”

O’Neill was more inclined to agree with Moench, saying that the referendum’s incredibly tight margin and the evidence that vote-counting errors can occur at all was valid enough reasoning for a recount.

“I’m satisfied that there is enough before me to warrant a recount,” O’Neill said. “It’s a razor-thin result. Only two votes out of some 3500 that were counted – it doesn’t get much closer than that.”

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