Runoffs for city council seats in the North and South wards remain too close to call, leaving open the possibility that the state’s capital city won’t have a quorum to reorganize on January 1.
Jennifer Williams has an 11-vote lead over Algernon Ward, 401 to 390, in the North Ward race, where Councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson did not seek re-election.
Jenna Figueroa Kettenburg leads Damian Malave by 43 votes, 309 to 266, in the race for the South Ward seat being vacated by Councilman George Muschal.
The North Ward has 26 uncounted provisional ballots; six of them have already been voided and there is no assurance that all 26 will be ultimately counted. Of the 26, one is from a registered voter and 25 have registration problems, according to a tally obtained by the New Jersey Globe through a records request.
There are 29 provisional ballots still to be counted in the South Ward; five ballots have previously been voided and that is no guarantee that election officials will wind up counting all 29 provisionals. Eight of the 26 provisionals come from registered voters, the records request shows, while 21 have registration issues attached to them.
It’s still not clear how many vote-by-mail ballots will be counted. Some came in last night, after secure drop boxes were closed at 8 PM. VBMs may still be counted as long as they were postmarked by 8 PM last night and delivered to the Mercer County Board of Elections by close of business on Monday. It’s also unclear how many cure letters remain outstanding.
Without a surge in late-arriving mail-in ballots that strongly favor him, Malave has an incredibly narrow path winning the South Ward runoff against Figueroa Kettenburg, even if all 29 provisional ballots were to go his way.
Williams’ lead is more precarious, although Ward would need to carry the provisionals with 73%, not including additional VBMS.
The eventual winner of the North Ward runoff will do so by a narrow margin, something that could spar a recount and court fight. A recount cannot be filed until after the certification of the runoff election on December 30.
If the race is close enough to create a viable election challenge, a judge could delay either Williams or Ward from being sworn. That would leave Trenton without a quorum to organize and could necessitate a short-term appointment to the city council by Gov. Phil Murphy before the results of the January 24, 2023 at-large council runoff are certified.
“While we still have more votes to count and I am winning, my campaign team and I firmly believe that our lead will continue and result in victory,” said Williams. “I want to thank everyone who came out to vote in this year’s runoff It is certainly hard to get voters to turn out in such a short window of time and the uncertainty of the runoff date definitely caused a lot of confusion in the North Ward. That uncertainty made it tough for many voters to go from December 6 to December 13.
Williams said the results of the election were “exactly what my fellow Trentonians and I wanted – a brighter future for our city that benefits everyone.”
“Trentonians do not run from challenges and I look forward to taking on the challenges we currently face in the North Ward and Trenton while removing the moniker, ‘the most dysfunctional city council in New Jersey’ from our City Council,” she said.
This story was updated at 4:43 PM.