Why Ciaterrelli Refuses to Concede NJ Governor’s Race

Hours after polls closed in the unexpectedly tight race for New Jersey governor, the Democratic incumbent, Philip D. Murphy, and his Republican challenger, Jack Ciattarelli, took the stages at their campaign parties and said it would take more time for the results to be finalized.

A new system of voting, which utilized electronic poll books and did not permit the more than half-million mail-in ballots to be tallied until Election Day, had bogged down the count.

Six days later, Mr. Ciattarelli, who trails Mr. Murphy by about 65,500 votes, or about 2.6 percentage points, according to The Associated Press, has yet to concede — even though The A.P. has declared Mr. Murphy the winner.

Mr. Ciattarelli’s campaign stressed that there was no evidence of fraud, and he has warned his Republican supporters against “falling victim to wild conspiracy theories or online rumors.” Officials with Mr. Ciattarelli’s campaign said on Monday that they were waiting until all mail and provisional ballots were counted, a process they expected to be completed within two days.

Still, that has not stopped Mr. Murphy’s campaign from criticizing Mr. Ciattarelli.

“Assemblyman Ciattarelli is mathematically eliminated, and he must accept the results and concede the race,” Mr. Murphy’s campaign manager, Mollie Binotto, said Monday in a statement. “His continuing failure to do so is an assault on the integrity of our elections.”

An election lawyer for the Ciattarelli campaign, Mark Sheridan, acknowledged that it was unlikely for Mr. Ciattarelli to pull ahead in the vote count. But he said it was possible Mr. Ciattarelli could come within 1 point of Mr. Murphy — the threshold at which he said it would be prudent to ask a judge for permission to conduct a recount.

At the same time, Mr. Sheridan sought to distance Mr. Ciattarelli from former President Donald J. Trump’s postelection “stop the steal” strategy that made disproved claims of voting fraud and led to the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“We’re not hearing any credible accounts of fraud or malfeasance,” Mr. Sheridan said.

“I’m not looking to be Rudy Giuliani standing in front of a mulch pile,” he added, referring to Mr. Trump’s lawyer, the former mayor of New York, who had his law license temporarily suspended after a court ruled that he made “demonstrably false and misleading statements” while fighting the results of the 2020 election.

But Mr. Sheridan did stress that it was important for “every vote to be counted.”

Despite the likelihood that Mr. Murphy will win a second term, the narrow margin has been a jolt to Democrats and suggested that they will face a steep climb to try to retain their hold on Congress in next year’s midterm elections.

The governor’s race was one of several where candidates were waiting to concede until after the results were finalized.

New Jersey’s second most powerful lawmaker, Steve Sweeney, who lost his State Senate seat to a relatively unknown Republican candidate, Edward Durr, had not conceded the race as of Monday afternoon. The Associated Press called the race on Thursday morning, as Mr. Durr maintained a 2,298-vote lead over Mr. Sweeney with all precincts counted, and by the weekend it had become a punchline on “Saturday Night Live” and “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.”

On Sunday, Mr. Trump called Mr. Durr and encouraged him to “have fun with it,” according to a clip of the call posted on Facebook.

At the heart of the delays were election technology used for the first time in New Jersey, enabling voters to cast ballots early, in person, over nine days.

The system used poll books that required an internet connection; in some cases, poll workers were confused by the new process. (At one polling location, for example, workers had not turned on the Wi-Fi router, an election lawyer said.)

Boards of election across the state also struggled to hire enough people to oversee Election Day voting, leading the state to offer an extra $100 to entice workers.

A spokeswoman for the secretary of state has maintained that the problems were not widespread, but they did lead to long lines at some polling sites, creating frustration that spilled out on Twitter. It also prompted a last-minute effort by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the state’s League of Women Voters to extend voting hours on Tuesday by 90 minutes. A judge rejected their request.

“There’s not been one suggestion of any hint of a fraud problem,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “What’s going on is a really agonizingly slow count.”

Last year, during the presidential election, New Jersey residents voted mainly by mail to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Months later, the Legislature also authorized nine days of early voting ahead of the Nov. 2 election, including four weekend days, joining a majority of states that offer ways to vote early, in person. But in doing so lawmakers eliminated a rule adopted for the 2020 presidential election cycle that permitted mail ballots to be counted before Election Day in order to speed up the process.

Mail ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 had until 8 p.m. Monday to arrive; an estimated 550,000 people cast mail ballots for Tuesday’s election — twice as many as were cast in 2019, contributing to the slow count.

There are also approximately 70,000 emergency provisional ballots, none of which can be counted until all mail ballots are tallied, to ensure no one voted twice.

“It finally reached the point where the counties couldn’t absorb all those changes at once,” Professor Rasmussen said.

To come within 1 percent of Mr. Murphy and justify a recount, Mr. Ciattarelli would need to narrow the vote gap that separates them to about 26,000 votes.

Middlesex County, with more than 10,000 provisional ballots to be counted, has one of the state’s largest numbers of remaining ballots. It is also a Democratic stronghold where Mr. Murphy was leading Mr. Ciattarelli in the Election Day count by 55 percent to 44 percent, which Mr. Murphy’s campaign maintained made it “mathematically” unlikely that Mr. Ciattarelli could pull ahead.

Still, the Ciattarelli campaign faulted Democrats for injecting a level of uncertainty.

“The new law Governor Murphy and state Democrats rushed to enact led to this disjointed and excruciatingly slow vote-counting process,” Mr. Sheridan said in a statement.

“At this time, we do not expect the provisional vote count to end with Jack Ciattarelli in the lead,” he added. “However, that count may reduce the margin for Governor Murphy enough to warrant a full recount.”




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