By Kevin Coughlin
There was nothing “nefarious” behind those ping-ponging election numbers from Morris Township on Tuesday night, Morris County Clerk Ann Grossi said on Wednesday morning.
Township committee candidate Jeff Grayzel, a Democrat, had raised questions about a late-night, “private meeting” between Grossi and Township GOP candidates and officials that coincided with a change in posted results, which dropped him from first to third in a race for two committee seats.
“It’s a wild imagination,” countered Grossi.
People streamed through her Morristown office all evening, and the only “private” meeting was requested by — and granted to — Morris County Democratic Chairman Chip Robinson, Grossi said.
“Chip came in. He could have brought anyone he wanted to. And we had a conversation about the process,” Grossi said, adding that she also spoke with Grayzel, his running mate Cathy Wilson, an attorney for the Democrats, and Morristown Democratic council candidate Justin Davis during the course of the night.
The county clerk cited technical reasons for the changing numbers, an emotional roller coaster for the apparent victors– Republican incumbents Matheu Nunn and Bruce Sisler–and Democratic challengers Grayzel and Wilson.
Grossi blamed a defective cartridge from a voting booth in District 1 for discrepancies that for a time showed Grayzel as top vote-getter, one vote ahead of Nunn.
When a machine was unable to read results from that cartridge, it was set aside until later in the evening. So vote counts from that district — Nunn’s home district, a stronghold for him– were not reflected initially in the aggregate numbers posted on the county election website.
Later, election workers manually entered that district’s results from a paper backup created by the voting machine in the Fairchild fire house.
But the manual entry somehow erased a file containing absentee ballot counts, Grossi said.
Those absentee totals had to be re-entered, also manually, Grossi said.
The county clerk said the county election officials and the state-approved vendor of the county’s election system, Dominion, are investigating what caused these malfunctions.
Grossi said she has no jurisdiction over another controversial matter: A report that poll workers at Convent Station instructed voters to use separate voting machines based on their political party.
The county board of elections told a New York TV station that a mistake was made and that poll volunteers quickly were “re-educated.”
As of Wednesday morning, the “unofficial” county tally showed Nunn and Sisler as the winners, with 2,270 and 2,236 votes, respectively, followed by Grayzel with 2,207 and Wilson with 2,190.
The results won’t become official until any “provisional” ballots are verified and tabulated, Grossi said. Provisional ballots are cast when questions arise at the polling place about a voter’s registration or address.
Grayzel, a former two-time committeeman, said he will decide whether to seek a recount–it would be at least his third –after provisional ballots are counted on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015.
“Don’t congratulate me yet,” Mat Nunn said on Wednesday morning. “I’m still not comfortable with any numbers until the clerk certifies them.”
Nunn took exception to Grayzel’s suggestion that the all-GOP Township committee violated the state Sunshine Act by gathering in Grossi’s office without issuing 48-hour advance notice to the public.
“We weren’t discussing public business,” said Nunn, an attorney and former prosecutor. “We were doing the same thing Jeff and his attorney were doing: ‘Hey, why has the county website changed four times in 20 minutes?'”
Grayzel reiterated on Wednesday: “I was eyewitness to the fact that the entire Morris Township committee was behind closed doors with [Grossi] while all the Democrats were in the hallway.”
Nunn said he empathized with his opponents, who went from jubilation over promising early numbers, to concession speeches, to renewed hope, and back to disappointment.
“Can you imagine being told on a county website you’re the winner?” said Nunn, who has run his first race after being appointed to an interim term earlier this year. “It’s emotional for everyone, a lot of hard work for everyone.”