Vote tallying in NJ continues, giving hope to challenger who had been counted out

Election officials expect counting to take until Nov. 20 deadline. Malinowski, declared winner in 7th District on Nov. 3, has seen his lead over Kean dwindle  
Credit: (Stefani Reynolds/Pool via AP; AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Ongoing ballot counting has whittled the early vote lead that Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-7), left, had over Republican state Sen. Tom Kean dwindle.

Ten days after Election Day, New Jersey officials are still counting ballots, with the 4.5 million known votes cast so far fast approaching the highest voter turnout this century.

But even as New Jersey may have thought it was done deciding winners, the picture could be changing for one high-profile race.

The latest results indicate that Rep. Tom Malinowski’s 7th District House race is tightening. A freshman Democrat who flipped the 7th District two years ago, Malinowski has seen an 11-point election night lead dwindle to less than two points as of late Thursday. The Associated Press called the race for Malinowski last Tuesday night, but a spokesman for Republican Tom Kean had predicted the race would tighten, as Republicans were more likely to mail their ballots later than Democrats or vote in person, and the state Senate minority leader has not conceded. As of 7 p.m. Thursday, Malinowski’s lead had shrunk to fewer than 5,800 votes, with close to 400,000 counted and more outstanding.

Harrison Neely, a spokesman for the Kean campaign, said there is “no reason to think the trend won’t continue or even grow in favor of Kean.”

Malinowski’s lead cut by 2,000 votes

An update by Union County around 4 p.m. Thursday cut Malinowski’s lead by about 1,500 votes. At 6 p.m., an update by Warren County cut it by another 500. Still, the incumbent’s campaign issued a statement indicating its confidence in victory.

“We all have to be patient and trust in the democratic process, but we’re confident that when the votes have been counted, Tom Malinowski will be reelected,” said Daniel Fleiss, Malinowski’s campaign manager.

Neely said there are 50,000 additional ballots to count, although AP estimates about 10% of ballots are outstanding, which would mean about 38,000. Election officials in the six counties either partly or completely in the district — Essex, Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, Union and Warren — either did not return calls or said they did not know how many ballots are still uncounted. Most of these are provisional ballots cast by those who went to the polls on Election Day, as most or all mail-in ballots have now been tallied in most counties.

The state Division of Elections issued its first tally of provisional ballots, showing 19 of the 21 counties reporting more than 145,000 counted so far. A spokeswoman for the division said there definitely are more provisional ballots to be reported. Added to some 4.37 million mail-in ballots returned, the turnout so far exceeds 4.51 million, or about 71% of registered voters. That number of ballots cast is a record. The highest percentage turnout this century was 73% in 2004.

In Hunterdon County, the turnout far exceeded 2016’s 75% of registered voters. This time, an estimated 84% of those registered cast ballots — and there are more votes to count.

Enthusiasm spills over

Presidential races usually draw the most attention and voters were especially enthusiastic about this year’s contest, in which Democrat Joe Biden unseated Republican Donald Trump.

That enthusiasm spilled over into congressional contests.

In the 7th District in 2018, Malinowski defeated five-term Republican incumbent Leonard Lance in this reliably red district as part of the backlash over Trump’s election and voters’ unhappiness that Lance had drifted to the right. Malinowski won close to 167,000 votes and beat Lance by 16,200, or five points. (In 2016, about 344,000 people voted in the congressional race, which Lance won easily with about 186,000 even while Trump lost in the district.) So far this year, 397,000 ballots have been counted in the district, with Malinowski receiving close to 202,000 votes to Kean’s 195,000.

At least some county election officials said they expect to continue counting the ballots up to the Nov. 20 deadline. Voters whose mail-in ballot signature were questioned have until Nov. 18 to “cure” those by submitting a statement certifying that they voted the ballot. County boards of elections must certify results by Nov. 20.