New Jersey congressional primary results delayed after 1,900 mail ballots unsealed prematurely

“I’m not saying to throw these ballots out. I’m saying the election process was compromised,” Atlantic County Republican Committee Chairman Don Purdy said.
Mail-in ballots

A New Jersey judge will decide whether to count about 1,900 mail ballots from Atlantic County in a congressional primary election after the ballots were unsealed prematurely.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Michael J. Blee will hear arguments over whether the 1,909 mail ballots cast in both the Democratic and Republican primary elections on Tuesday will be counted after the ballot envelopes were unsealed too early, the Associated Press reported.

The outcome of the hearing could affect the 2nd Congressional District's Democratic primary results, where businessman Joe Salerno is currently leading attorney Tim Alexander by about 400 votes in unofficial results.

State law permits election officials to open mail ballots five days before Election Day, but the 1,909 mail ballots were opened about a month before the Tuesday primary. However, Creed Pogue, a Democrat appointed to the Atlantic County Board of Elections, said that the ballots weren't removed at the time the envelopes were unsealed.

Pogue claimed that election workers made the error when they were adding timestamps to the inner envelopes that contain the mail ballots. The timestamps used to only be added to the outer envelope, where there is no identifiable voter information, but they are now added to the inner envelopes to improve ballot tracking. However, the machine that added the timestamps was still programmed to unseal the envelopes.

“Because of no fault of their own, because of an innocent mistake, that should not disenfranchise a voter, particularly when there was no evidence of malicious intent, no evidence of any tampering,” Pogue said. “We should, therefore, make sure these ballots are counted and the wishes of the voters known.”

During the election board's meeting on Tuesday, Pogue and the other Democratic member voted for a motion to accept the ballots that were opened early, while the two Republican members voted against it.

Atlantic County Republican Committee Chairman Don Purdy said he believes, based on talking with election workers, that opening the ballots was intentional because it continued for several days. Officials would have realized it immediately if it was a mistake and stopped the process, he argued.

“I’m not saying to throw these ballots out. I’m saying the election process was compromised,” Purdy said. “You can’t fix something unless you admit there is a problem and fix it.”

The state attorney general’s office wrote in a court filing Thursday that state law doesn't advise a local board on what action to take if the inner envelopes are prematurely opened and asked the judge to break the election board's tied vote on whether to accept or reject the ballots.