The New Jersey gubernatorial election was riddled with various anomalies as the state attempted in-person early voting for the first time, which involved a new electronic sign-in system that ran into operational issues on Election Day.
In what has turned out to be a tight race between incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and the GOP candidate, former New Jersey General Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, there have been numerous irregularities — from the electronic poll books and new voting machines, to an undercover journalist being allowed to vote as a noncitizen, and dozens of machines being impounded.
On election night, both Murphy and Ciattarelli said they wanted every vote to be counted.
However, with 10% of the expected vote, or 286,611 votes, still uncounted as of Friday afternoon, with only a 56,630-vote difference between the candidates, Murphy celebrated with a victory party the day after the election, when the media declared him the winner.
Ciattarelli has yet to concede as counting continues, with the deadline for counting mail-in ballots still three days away on Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. and provisional ballots still needing to be cured.
Murphy is running far ahead of Ciatarelli among mail-in voters.
In a video posted Thursday evening on Twitter, Ciattarelli said Murphy's victory celebration was premature, and that no one should concede or claim victory until "every legal vote is counted." He added that his team has people watching the process to ensure that everything is in compliance with the law and that any decision regarding a recount or audit would be made after the counting process is complete.
Ciattarelli encouraged people to not listen to conspiracy theories regarding the election, but if any irregularities were observed, to report them to the NJGOP voter integrity hotline.
Voters this year signed electronic poll books that were connected to the internet to verify their identity before casting their vote, as opposed to signing manual books as in previous years.
With a record of all voters eligible at each polling location, the electronic system provides real-time updates to the state voter database. It was intended to prevent people from voting on different days or in multiple locations during early voting, officials said, according to NJ.com.
Several polling locations experienced internet issues connecting to the state database, leading in some cases to long lines and voters being turned away.
The issues with the $68 million electronic poll books, which were instituted by the Murphy administration, arose in multiple counties.
"Yes, we are having internet slowdowns and problems, and we are working our way through it," Monmouth County Board of Elections Commissioner Eileen Kean said Tuesday, according to New Jersey 101.5. "The problem is around the state. It's not just a Monmouth County problem. It's tied to the electronic poll books."
The reason more problems were reported on Election Day than during early voting was that there were more polling locations open on Nov. 2, Kean said.
"We have hundreds of polling districts," she said. "Sure, there's going to be more problems today than there were when we had 10 polling centers for early voting."
Kean said the new system had been tested "ad nauseam" through many training sessions before voting began.
In Keansburg, a power outage caused voting to stop at two fire stations being used as polling locations, JCP&L spokesman Christopher Hoenig said. Animals had damaged a breaker inside a substation, but crews fixed the issue, restoring power by 11 a.m.
Middlesex County also had issues with connecting to routers, an election official told New Jersey 101.5.
"Upon the opening of polls at 6 a.m., operational issues were reported to the Board of Elections," the official said. "It became apparent that the issues were mainly due to connectivity challenges with the routers which were provided to the county by the State of New Jersey. These state-issued devices are intended to connect the electronic poll books to the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS). It appears that these issues were not isolated to Middlesex County but were happening across the state."
In the town of South Plainfield, for instance, 13 of the 15 polling districts were not operable for several hours on Tuesday morning, according to MyCentralJersey.com.
Hunterdon County had to reboot two electronic poll books at different locations, according to Hunterdon County Elections Supervisor Beth Thompson.
Some voters also had issues attempting to select their candidate. A video posted on Facebook shows a voter attempting to select Ciattarelli on a voting machine, but the machine would not accept her vote for him. She was allowed to use another machine to vote, NJ.com reported.
In a video by Project Veritas, an undercover journalist went to an Essex County polling location, telling the poll worker he was not registered to vote but did vote in the presidential election. A poll worker said she was not sure how he could vote without being registered before a second poll worker interrupted, saying she remembered him, adding, "Remember, we were allowing anyone to come in."
Another poll worker said, "We was allowing anybody to come in," to which the first poll worker said, "presidential, that was a presidential, not gub[ernatorial]."
"I'll let you fill out completely a ballot now," the first poll worker said. "Whether or not it's going to count, I don't know."
After the undercover journalist told the poll worker that he wasn't a U.S. citizen, she said, "Listen, we'll let you do it. They'll figure that out."
With issues regarding the electronic poll books and some voters leaving polling locations because of them, the American Civil Liberties Union and League of Women Voters of New Jersey filed a lawsuit to extend polling hours from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., saying the issues were denying voters their right to vote, according to NBC 4 New York.
The Superior Court judge disagreed, saying there was little evidence of voter disenfranchisement and extending the voting hours would create more issues.
Counties also reported issues with counting ballots.
Essex County had 56 districts go uncounted on the night of the election due to poll worker error, according to Essex County Clerk Christopher Durkin, News 12 New Jersey reported. He added that the problem will be investigated.
By Friday, the county had all votes from Election Day voting machines counted in all districts, in addition to most of the mail-in ballots, as they waited for the few that may still arrive in the mail and are postmarked by Election Day, Durkin said. He added that there are still nearly 4,000 provisional ballots that need to be verified, with Nov. 15 being the deadline for those to be cured in Essex County, Patch reported.
As of Friday afternoon, Passaic County still had not reported votes from a total of 16 districts.
Five districts in Paterson have not been counted due to election workers accidentally locking the voting machines after the polls closed, according to Mayor Andre Sayegh, adding that officials have to get a court order to unseal the machines and retrieve the voting data, NorthJersey.com reported.
In Union County, poll workers left some thumb drives in the machines or took them out as vote totals were being transferred, Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi told NJ.com. Those 18 voting machines were sealed, and a court order was required to open them and retrieve the data, but the issue has since been resolved, and the votes have been tallied.
As a result of all the anomalies and the race being so close, a petition was created on Wednesday by New Jersey residents to "demand a recount and forensic audit for the election for the Governor of the state of NJ." By Friday afternoon, over 56,000 people had signed it.
Just the News also found that some dead people in New Jersey are apparently still actively registered to vote in Essex County, cemetery records and voter registrations show. A random sample of 60 deceased showed six were still actively registered, which while a small number is 10% of the sampling. They include:
Before the election, the Republican National Committee trained a total of 286 poll watchers and sent them to 104 precincts in New Jersey, according to SaveJersey.com.
The RNC has also sent 20 lawyers to New Jersey as vote counting continues.
In order for a recount to occur, either a candidate or interested parties have to request one within 17 days of Election Day by filing a lawsuit in state Superior Court in the relevant counties, according to NJ.com.