After predictable NJ winners, will slow count deliver some surprises in epic election?

What we know — and don’t know — after the first votes have been tallied. Be prepared to wait for the final counts
Credit: (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Mail-in ballots will continue to be counted through Nov. 10. On Oct. 15, Robert Reed deposited his ballot in an election drop box in Newark.

The release of initial ballot counts in New Jersey’s unprecedented election held no surprises, with former Vice President Joe Biden winning the state’s 14 Electoral College votes for president, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker winning by a wide margin, eight House incumbents winning reelection and the passage of the legalized recreational use by adults of marijuana.

But it’s unclear when the final winners of the closest House races will be known. Counties will continue counting mail-in ballots through next Tuesday, when they will begin to tally the provisional ballots that voters cast in person at the polls on Election Day.

It is also unclear how many provisional ballots are out there and whether more were cast by Democrats or Republicans, which could indicate which candidates might pick up additional votes.

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Those who showed up at the polls to vote in person via provisional ballot faced problems in some places, where polls did not open in time and poll workers appeared to give out some incorrect information.

While the mail-in ballot process that Gov. Phil Murphy put in place to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19 also led to much confusion among voters, New Jerseyans embraced it — if reluctantly for some Republicans. At least 3.8 million people submitted mail-in ballots early, with about 43% coming from Democrats, who hold a wide voter registration margin in the state, and 26% from Republicans.

What we know: Congress

In races for the U.S. House of Representative — most of which were fairly uncompetitive — Democratic incumbents easily recaptured their seats in six of New Jersey’s 12 districts. Longtime Rep. Christopher H. Smith, a Republican incumbent, will also return to Washington, D.C. next year.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, another Democratic incumbent in a quest for reelection, quickly swept Republican Rikin Mehta, collecting more than 60% of the vote.

Several contests — including in the competitive 2nd District — remained unfinished late Tuesday night, although incumbents were leading by double-digit margins in two of the three closest races. But the 2nd District race was tight, with Democrat-turned Republican Jeff Van Drew, the incumbent, maintaining a slight lead over challenger Amy Kennedy, with 51% of the vote to her 47.4%.

In the 7th District, Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski was ahead of his challenger, longtime Republican state lawmaker Tom Kean Jr., son of the former governor, by nearly 11 points. In the 3rd District, Democratic Rep. Andy Kim maintained a similar advantage over the GOP’s David Richter, who was seeking to unseat him.

The other congressional race that remained undetermined late Tuesday night was in the 6th District, where Democrat Frank Pallone Jr. has long held the seat. Votes appeared to be coming in slowly, but nearly two hours after polls closed GOP challenger Christian Onuoha was leading Pallone by more than 52% to close to 48%. However, AP results included only about 51,000 votes from the predominantly blue Middlesex County. The county website, however, was reporting Pallone leading Onuoha by almost 50,000 votes, which would be more than enough for Pallone to win.

What we know: Ballot questions

All three ballot questions were approved handily. More veterans will be able to receive a property-tax credit. And the process for redrawing the map for legislative districts will be delayed a year to allow for updated census data.

Voters approved legalizing marijuana by a 2-1 margin. The law would allow recreational use by adults aged 21 and over starting in January. But exactly how that will work remains an open question.

Oversight of the recreational marijuana industry in New Jersey would be delegated to a panel called the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which was established in law last year and will also supervise the state’s existing medical marijuana program.

The constitutional amendment that voters approved on Tuesday allows for marijuana products to be subject to the state sales tax, which is currently set at 6.625%. Towns would also be allowed to charge their own local taxes on cannabis products sold within their borders.

As for how much taxes legalization would bring to New Jersey’s budget, analysts at the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services issued a formal fiscal estimate late last year that assumed up to $126 million in annual tax revenue could eventually be generated. However, the OLS analysts also warned that annual revenues would likely be lower “in the early years as the market develops.”

State legislative races

There were two unexpired legislative seats on the ballot, one Senate and one Assembly race in the usually red 25th District in Morris County. Democrats were surprisingly ahead by small margins in both of those, but with only about a third of the expected vote counted. Republican Sen. Anthony Bucco was trailing Rupande Mehta by about 2 percentage points, or 1,000 votes. For the Assembly seat in the same district, Democrat Darcy Draeger had a 5-point lead over Republican Aura Dunn, who took her seat earlier this year.