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New Jersey County Declared Wrong Election Winner Last November

A review by the state attorney general found that safeguards to prevent double counting of votes were not in place, resulting in a miscount of Monmouth County’s ballots that declared the wrong winner for an Ocean Township school board seat.

a person in a voting booth
Voting takes place for the NJ Primaries at Pierrepont School in Rutherford on Tuesday, June 8, 2021
John Jones | For/TNS
Buggy software and human error, not fraud or funny business, were behind voting irregularities that led elections officials in Monmouth County, N.J., to declare the wrong winner in a local race last November, a state inquiry found.

The General Election snafu sowed confusion in four towns with contested races and caused a rare post- Election Day reversal in Ocean Township that found the wrong candidate had been seated on the school board.

It also prompted the state attorney general to launch an independent review, releasing its findings on Wednesday. Led by former AG Peter Harvey, the investigation found “certain safeguards designed to prevent double counting of votes cast were not in place,” leading to the miscount.

Overall, the cascade of technical and human errors did not shift any balances of power. But it came at a time when false claims of a stolen presidential election put any instances of voting irregularity under the microscope across the United States.

Here in New Jersey, problems in the general election renewed debates over whether the state should return to using paper ballots. In addition to the Monmouth County issues, voting machines were down across all of Mercer County on Election Day due to unrelated technical errors.

“These reports are a public service, and we are reviewing them carefully as we work to ensure free and fair elections in New Jersey,” state Attorney General Matthew Platkin said in a statement announcing the findings.

Katina Granger, a spokeswoman for Election Systems & Software, said in an email the report “affirms that human procedural errors affected the outcome of a race in Monmouth County during the November 2022 general election.”

“We’re thankful for the thorough review by the State and pledge to continue our work with election officials to ensure all votes are counted as cast,” she said.

Harvey’s report outlines recommended reforms as well as a detailed account of what what wrong.

The trouble started in July 2022, when Monmouth County officials asked the company to help troubleshoot issues with their voting machines that later turned out to be simple network connectivity problems, according to Harvey’s report.

The employee they sent was improperly trained, however, and re-installed software in a way that disabled the machines’ ability to tell if votes were counted twice, the probe found. That caused problems during the usually hectic counting process on election night.

To manually count write-in votes, county workers use flash drives to transfer images of ballots and, in this case, accidentally uploaded the data from six of those flash drives twice. Normally, the voting software would automatically detect duplicate images, but because it had been improperly installed, no red flag was raised, according to the report.

The inquiry found no issues beyond what was previously disclosed, namely recounts in Belmar, Fair Haven, Ocean Township and Tinton Falls.

In the Ocean Township school board race, former board member Steve Clayton was up over incumbent Jeffrey Weinstein by just 20 votes — 3,523 to 3,503. A recount finalized after Clayton took office found he actually lost by four, 3,408 to 3,404.

The attorney general’s investigation concluded the problems were honest mistakes. The report also contains a range of recommended reforms, most of them concerning tabulation procedures and contracts with voting machine vendors.

“Elections in New Jersey are secure,” the report concludes. “In fact, the voting equipment used in Monmouth County is protected from outside intrusions, including by any vendor personnel.

“In our investigation, we discovered no evidence suggesting that the miscount was the result of any fraudulent or willfully wrongful conduct by any Monmouth County election official or personnel, ES&S employee, or any other person.”

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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