Two candidates seeking a recount in Somerset County’s local elections must convince a Superior Court judge that there is reason to believe the votes were counted incorrectly.
Republican Frank DelRocca lost his bid for a seat on the Raritan Borough Council by seven votes against Democrat Adam Armahizer. In Hillsborough, Democrat Erin Murphy, a teacher, came within 46 votes of unseating GOP incumbent Robert Britting. Both want a recount before their governing bodies are reshuffled next month.
But Somerset County Judge Kevin Shanahan is taking the statute, which says candidates are not eligible for an automatic recount, more literally.
“It doesn’t mention X number of votes, which is a presumption of a recount,” Shanahan said. “It states that the court must consider and decide whether there is sufficient, competent, credible evidence showing that there is reason to believe that an error has been committed and that the alleged error requires a recount.”
Some judges in other regions are more likely to allow recounts in close races.
Deputy Attorney General Debra Allen, representing the Somerset County Board of Elections, said in a brief statement that they do not have a position on the recount requests, but she voiced some opposition during two brief court hearings this afternoon.
“A candidate must present sufficient, competent, credible evidence that there was reason to believe that an error was made in the tallying of the vote,” Allen said. “Based on the allegations in the petition, we do not see that there were any specific errors. If anything, they were speculative.’
Allen also noted that there will be challenges in completing a quick recount, including a special referendum in one school district.
“The point is that the election law was not consistent with the fact that there was an early voting period and that there would be a special school election under our governor’s order to move it to December 13,” Allen said. “So that complicates things in terms of running and preparing for this election and any post-election issues that would have to be dealt with through the care process and things like that.”
Election officials in Somerset are also hampered by a manpower problem: the county does not carry over vacation days from one year to the next, so the election board lacks staff to count votes.
Shanahan gave candidates until Dec. 12 to file their applications and said he could hold a hearing on Dec. 14 if necessary.
DelRocco filed for a recount Nov. 25, and Murphy filed Nov. 28, but the judge took until today to hold a hearing.
Armahizer flipped the seat of retiring Republican Councilman Paul Giraldi. Britting was appointed earlier this year after issues with COVID forced newly elected Councilman Steve Cohen to resign after just six weeks in office.