State launches investigation into Monmouth County voting irregularities

By: - January 24, 2023 11:40 am

A voting tabulation error in six Monmouth County voting districts appears to have changed the results of an Ocean Township school board. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)

State officials will investigate Monmouth County’s handling of the 2022 general election after reports that a voting machine technician’s error changed the results of at least one local race, Attorney General Matt Platkin announced Tuesday.

Last week, the New Jersey Globe reported a voting tabulation error in six Monmouth County voting districts appeared to have changed the results of an Ocean Township school board race after an error made by a technician for the districts’ voting machine vendor caused some votes to be counted twice.

In a statement, Platkin said a full investigation is warranted to “encourage and preserve public trust in our elections, including recommendations for reforms to benefit the conduct of contests statewide.”

The state has retained former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey and his law firm — Patterson, Belknap, Webb, and Tyler — to lead the probe into the irregularities, which have attracted some national attention. Harvey, a former federal prosecutor, and the firm have agreed to be retained on a pro bono basis.

“We welcome the investigation and look forward to further review and verification,” said Katina Granger, a spokesperson for Election Systems and Software, the voting machine vendor.

Initial official results in Ocean Township showed Steve Clayton defeating Jeffrey Weinstein by 20 votes, 3,523 to 3,503, but a new count conducted after the discrepancy was discovered put Weinstein ahead by a single vote.

County officials are seeking a court-ordered recount. Monmouth’s election officials said they welcome the investigation and asked the state to require election equipment be recertified annually and equipment software be updated.

“Monmouth County election offices also ask the state to create a new state mandated test and checklist to perform before elections to ensure the election software works properly,” Monmouth County election officials said in a joint statement. “Again, our top priority is ensuring the integrity of the voting process for the residents of Monmouth County.” 

Election Systems & Software

So far, the irregularities said to be caused by an Election Systems & Software technician in Monmouth County appear to be isolated.

Five counties — Gloucester, Middlesex, Sussex, Union, and Warren — reported using ES&S voting machines in an inventory of voting equipment conducted by the Secretary of State’s office.

Those five and two others, Atlantic and Bergen counties, reported using the firm’s tabulation machines to count mail-in ballots.

But election officials outside of Monmouth appeared unconcerned by the snafu, many noting they had used ES&S equipment for years without issue.

“We’ve had ES&S since 2019, and I’ve been satisfied with how it’s worked ever since,” said Warren County Clerk Holly Mackey. “There are checks and balances in place. We always check and balance anyway, but when that came to light, we just did a double check and confirmed everything was OK here in Warren.”

Mackey said her office compared results and turnout numbers after learning of the issues in Monmouth County, finding the two matched. A regular audit conducted by Monmouth County officials did not spot the irregularities there.

Gloucester County Clerk James Hogan echoed Mackey’s sentiments but added there could be some lessons learned from the snafu.

“We can take the Monmouth experience into our overall questioning and checklist,” he said. “The question that I do have is what we do to catch what happened in Monmouth.”

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.