NJ Election 2020: Counting continues, work starts on provisional ballots

It’s a lengthy job now to process, sort and count ballots cast on Election Day with not all mail-in votes tabulated
Credit: (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Election officials huddle around a table as ballots are processed.

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The counting of ballots continues, and while the country awaits the outcome of the presidential election, the only federal race not called in New Jersey is the 2nd Congressional District in South Jersey.

About 76% of the nearly 3.9 million mail-in ballots received statewide through 11 a.m. Wednesday had been counted by midday, according to an NJ Spotlight News analysis of data from the Secretary of State’s office and county clerks’ election reports.

More mail-in ballots will continue to arrive and be processed and counted through Nov. 10. After that, officials will begin to count provisional ballots. There’s no estimate yet of how many people voted in person with a provisional ballot on Election Day.

Although there are still at least 1 million more ballots to count, The Associated Press has called all but one of the state’s dozen House races. Lopsided wins in New Jersey for U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and for former Vice President Joe Biden, both Democrats, meant they were called shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Waiting on results for 2nd District

According to the latest count, Republican incumbent Jeff Van Drew was leading Democrat Amy Kennedy in the sprawling 2nd District by more than 3-percentage points or about 9,600 votes. The analysis of ballots returned and counted indicates there should be at least another 47,000 more votes to tally, but some are from Democratic strongholds and others from Republican areas. Final results are not likely to be certified before Nov. 20.

Republicans feel confident in Van Drew’s reelection. However, this is his first time running as a Republican — he switched parties last December after voting against impeaching President Donald Trump.

“Since Congressman Jeff Van Drew joined the Republican party, he has stood strong for our values, worked hard to represent the people of South Jersey, and advocated for common sense policies that will benefit all people of the second congressional district,” said state GOP Chairman Doug Steinhardt in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon. “The NJGOP congratulates him on a resounding victory, was pleased to support his campaign efforts, and wishes him well in his next term in Congress.”

But Democrats are not ready to concede.

“The Amy Kennedy-Jeff Van Drew race is still not called, and my guess is that’s still going to take some time,” said Gov. Phil Murphy during an early Wednesday afternoon phone call with other members of the state Democratic Committee.

Dems heading back to D.C.

But Murphy and other Democrats congratulated the party’s 10 current Democratic House members, all of whom appear to be returning to Congress. The GOP is saying it’s still too early to call either Andy Kim’s 3rd District race or Tom Malinowski’s in the 7th, although both currently are leading their Republican opponents by wide margins and have been declared the winners by AP.

Two surprise statewide races that are too early to call are an unexpired state Senate seat and an Assembly seat in the 25th District in Morris County, usually reliably red. The Democratic challengers hold narrow leads over the GOP incumbents, but with fewer than 40% of the expected vote counted.

Democrats celebrated other victories around the state, including completing the takeover of the Somerset County freeholder board, with Murphy calling it “a really big day.”

With many votes still outstanding, it appears that Biden got more support than Trump overall and in traditionally Republican counties, although it is possible in some counties that the late vote will trend Republican.

With two-thirds of the expected vote counted Wednesday at 6 p.m., Biden had nearly 61% support and a 22-point lead over Trump and was ahead in Hunterdon and Morris counties, both of which backed the president in 2016. That year, Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 14 points, losing in 12 counties. So far this election, Trump is ahead in only five counties — Cape May, Ocean, Salem, Sussex and Warren.

Speaking during a post-election panel presented by the Corporation for New Jersey Local Media, Assembly Republican Minority Leader Jon Bramnick of Union County said it’s no coincidence that Democrats’ electoral gains have coincided with Trump’s tenure in the White House.

“The way Donald Trump handles himself and the way he treats other people is actually a problem for us in New Jersey,” said Bramnick, a moderate Republican and likely gubernatorial candidate next year.

Murphy stressed that the counting is continuing and that every vote would be counted.

Happy for extra time

At least some county officials said they may need all the extra time to finish the counting that the Legislature and governor gave them. Each county has a different process and timetable for tallying votes.

Nicole DiRado, superintendent of elections in Union County, said the county has already tallied more than 124,000 mail-in ballots received through Oct. 24. Officials are now processing those returned from then through Oct. 31 and have not had a chance to even get to some 12,000 picked up from drop boxes on Election Day or 1,400 that arrived in Tuesday’s mail.

Officials are processing ballots in one location and counting them in another, and not likely to get back to running them through the high-speed scanners that tally the votes until this weekend after processing them by hand. Processing involves scanning ballot envelopes into the state database, checking signatures against those on file and removing ballots from envelopes and flattening them.

“It’s a matter of preparing enough to go in and scan a meaningful number,” she said.

Count will continue for several days

In Atlantic County, officials said they would probably be counting ballots for at least several more days. A last-minute surge of ballots that came in through drop boxes and from the polling places swamped vote processors.

“After the polls closed last night, there were literally thousands and thousands of mail-in ballots that came in,” said Lynn Caterson, who chairs the county elections board. “We put them in the vault and locked the door and won’t even begin to start processing until later today.”

Camden County officials said that they still expected to process 140,000 more mail-in ballots and provisional ballots. So many people handed in their ballots on Tuesday that workers had to empty each of the county’s 13 drop boxes three times.

“The staff has working 12-hour days for weeks now,’’ said Richard Ambrosino, secretary of the board of elections in Camden County, which has relied heavily on a contingent of 22 National Guard recruits to help with handling all the ballots. “Today, we’re just working on unpacking all the bags of ballots. It’s a process.”

In Bergen County, officials estimated that they still had about 40,000 ballots to open, log in and collate even before they could be counted. Some 7,000 ballots from drop boxes came in after polls closed Tuesday night. Another huge stream, still uncounted, came from those who dropped their mail-in ballots off at polling places, officials said.

And they are bracing for a potentially large influx of ballots to be delivered by the postal service. USPS dumped more than 50 crates of mail ballots on the county the Thursday after the July 7 primary.

More than 150 ballot handlers will remain set up at the Bergen County Community College to process votes in the coming days. After toiling past 1 a.m. Wednesday, they were back to work by 8 a.m.

Turnout beyond expectations

Jamie Sheehan, chair of the county elections board, said turnout proved to be even larger than officials expected. More than 500,000 votes will be tallied by the time the count ends, probably not for at least another three more days.

“The voter response had been astronomical,” said Sheehan. “So many votes are coming in, in so many ways, it has been hard to get our breath.”

Murphy again predicted that this year’s turnout will break records, although it’s not there yet. The nearly 3.9 million ballots received through 11 a.m. represents about 64% of the total number sent out. That’s still a little behind the 3.96 million who voted in 2016, or 68% of those registered, with an unknown number of ballots already submitted and still working their way through the mail system.

— Jeff Pillets contributed to this story.