By Kevin Coughlin
Democrats in Morristown and Morris Township on Wednesday requested recounts in hopes of reversing narrow defeats in this month’s local elections.
The simpler case involves Justin Davis, who lost to Republican Councilwoman Alison Deeb by just 8 votes in Morristown’s Fourth Ward.
“In this day and age, there’s always room for error…a judge shouldn’t have any issue ordering a recount,” said Richard Dunne, the attorney hired by the Morris County Democratic Committee to pursue recounts in both municipalities.
In his filing with the Superior Court in Morristown, Dunne cited technical glitches and poll worker errors in the contest for two Morris Township committee seats.
Democrats Jeff Grayzel and Cathy Wilson finished third and fourth, respectively, losing to incumbent Republicans Matheu Nunn and Bruce Sisler. Grayzel missed clinching a seat by 23 votes. Out of 8,937 ballots cast, only 74 votes– 0.8 percent of the total–separated all four candidates, Dunne said.
Later, the county clerk’s office acknowledged the malfunction of a cartridge from a District 1 voting machine.
Information from that cartridge had to be entered manually… which somehow erased mail-in votes. Those counts also had to be restored, Dunne noted in his filing.
If approved by a judge, recounts would examine everything, from voting machine tallies to whether “mail-in ballots were rejected properly or improperly,” said the attorney, who also chairs the Hanover Township Democratic organization.
“It’s a long shot, but if you’re like Justin, where 8 votes separates you and competition, it’s absolutely worthwhile,” Dunne said.
The Morris County GOP will not oppose the recounts, said Republican Chairman John Sette.
“We believe in democracy. We would never object,” he said.
Grayzel appeared to hold a one-vote lead late on election night. He expressed concerns when that vote evaporated while County Clerk Ann Grossi was meeting with the Republic candidates. The clerk said the timing was coincidental; Republicans regained the lead when the cartridge malfunction issues were resolved, she said.
“Only after the recount is complete and the election is re-certified by the county clerk will Cathy and I determine if any other actions need to be taken,” Grayzel said via email on Wednesday.
This would be at least his third recount for Grayzel. In 2006, a recount pushed him from an 11-vote winner to a 1-vote loser. But a judge ordered a new election, which Grayzel won in 2007.
Last year, a recount found votes that had not been tabulated electronically. These new votes were spread evenly among the candidates, however, so Grayzel and Wilson still lost.
While he can’t predict the outcome, Grayzel expressed confidence that once again, the numbers will change.
“Examining the mail-in ballots manually, as opposed to the initial optical reader used on election night, will definitely yield a different vote count,” he said.
“This is because some voters do not fill in the entire circle on the paper ballot and the optical reader does not pick up markings such as check-marks. But as long as there is clear ‘voter intent’ when the ballot is filled out then the vote will be counted.”
Davis, who also is getting guidance from former Jersey City Mayor Gerry McCann, said he is optimistic.
“You never know what you will find,” said Davis, the assistant chief of staff for state Sen. Richard Codey.
You never know when you will find it, either. Davis’ recounting may have to wait awhile. His wife, Emma, is due to give birth to their third child any day now.