Ciattarelli not yet ready to concede, despite Murphy camp’s push
TRENTON – Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign is pressing for Jack Ciattarelli to concede last week’s election, saying it’s impossible given the number of ballots left to count for the Republican to overcome a deficit that now exceeds 65,000 votes.
Ciattarelli is declining to do so, for now, as the counting of mail-in votes nears its conclusion and counties move on to provisional and, potentially, emergency ballots.
"Waiting an additional day or two for all votes to be counted should not be controversial," said Ciattarelli legal counsel Mark Sheridan. “Let me be clear, no one on this team is alleging fraud or malfeasance, as we have not seen any credible evidence of that. However, the new law Gov. Murphy and state Democrats rushed to enact led to this disjointed and excruciatingly slow vote-counting process."
In a memo attributed to campaign manager Mollie Binotto, the Murphy campaign said the votes that remain to count include vote-by-mail ballots, which strongly favor Murphy, and provisional ballots, of which there aren’t enough to reverse the lead.
Citing nearly complete reports from counties, the Murphy campaign estimates there are around 57,400 provisional ballots. Even if they were all for Ciattarelli – which realistically isn’t the case – Murphy would still be ahead, Binotto said in the memo.
“The race is over,” Binotto wrote. “Assemblyman Ciattarelli is mathematically eliminated, and he must accept the results and concede the race. His continuing failure to do so is an assault on the integrity of our elections.”
The Ciattarelli campaign estimates there are around 70,000 provisional ballots.
"At this time, we do not expect the provisional vote count to end with Jack Ciattarelli in the lead. However, that count may reduce the margin for Governor Murphy enough to warrant a full recount," Sheridan said. "We will make the decision to pursue a recount based on all of the facts, which includes that this is the first time New Jersey is conducting an election under the new law, using new technology and vote-counting procedures.”
'This was not a close race'
The latest unofficial counts from the counties show Murphy is ahead by 65,445 votes, or 2.6%. Murphy had 1,285,351 votes, or 50.9%, and Ciattarelli had 1,219,906, or 48.3%.
“This was not a close race – it just seemed that way given the delayed reporting of votes on Tuesday night,” Binotto wrote.
A 2.6% race is a close one, though. It is New Jersey’s closest gubernatorial race since 1997 and the closest won by a Democrat since 1961.
The Murphy campaign notes that Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin leads his race by 2.2% and that the Republican Governors Association called that “a healthy margin.”
“While Terry McAuliffe offered his concession days ago, Assemblyman Ciattarelli is refusing to concede and face reality. By failing to publicly acknowledge that he has lost the race, Assemblyman Ciattarelli is misleading his supporters into thinking he has a chance to prevail. But he does not,” Binotto wrote.
“We understand that Gov. Murphy and his team are embarrassed that in a state with 1 million more registered Democrats and where Joe Biden won by 16 points, they are leading by such a small margin,” said Ciattarelli strategist Chris Russell. “But the Murphy campaign’s attempt to spin their lackluster performance will have no impact on our decision.”
Different standard for Sweeney
On Friday, Murphy said Senate President Steve Sweeney, who hasn’t conceded after losing a stunner to a little-funded political novice, “deserves the space that he needs to count every vote” in a race Edward Durr leads by 3.6%, which is larger than Murphy’s lead.
In a video released last Thursday evening, Ciattarelli criticized Murphy for delivering a victory speech and said “no one should be declaring victory or conceding the election until every legal vote is counted.” That could take the rest of the week, as provisional ballots won’t even start being reviewed until tomorrow.
Provisional ballots are paper ballots cast by people who attempt to vote at a polling place but face questions about their eligibility. Some, for instance, may have been sent mail-in ballots. They vote on a paper ballot that is sealed in an envelope and counted only after the county confirms they didn’t have a second ballot in the mail or satisfy other concerns about their eligibility to vote.
Provisionals may favor Ciattarelli
It would appear likely that Ciattarelli could gain votes when provisional ballots are counted, as those ballots are cast on Election Day and he appears to have won the vote among people who cast ballots Tuesday, rather than early or by mail.
Fifteen of 21 counties report their data in such a way that Election Day tallies can be determined. Ciattarelli was ahead by 12%, getting nearly 56% of the vote in those counties. He probably won the Election Day vote in at least four of the remaining counties – Burlington, Hunterdon, Salem and Warren. He may have also won the Election Day vote in Middlesex County, though probably not in Camden County.
If there are 57,400 provisional ballots, and Ciattarelli were to win 56% of them, he would close the margin by around 7,000 votes – just a fraction of his 65,000-vote deficit.
According to the Murphy campaign’s count, the governor has received 68% of the votes counted since Wednesday, primarily because they result from mail-in votes that were disproportionately cast by registered Democrats.
The Murphy campaign said in its memo that the only votes remaining to count are vote-by-mail and provisional ballots, but that might not be the case. There are still 11 precincts for which results are not yet fully reported – five in Camden County, four in Burlington County and two in Mercer County.
Camden County said it believes its five machines not included in the count were assigned to polling places but not used. The Mercer precincts are Trenton ones described as being partially reported.
With the votes reported by counties between Friday night and Sunday, the total number of ballots surpassed the number cast in 1993, making this year’s gubernatorial election the one with the highest turnout – in total number of voters, not turnout percentage – in New Jersey history.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.