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Atlantic commissioner race recount scanned 108,000 ballots by Tuesday evening
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Atlantic commissioner race recount scanned 108,000 ballots by Tuesday evening

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Fernandez_Risley.jpg

A recount in the 2020 Atlantic County commissioners race shows Republican incumbent John Risley maintaining his victory over Democratic challenger Celeste Fernandez.

MAYS LANDING — About 108,000 paper ballots from the November 2020 general election had been scanned by a counting machine as of Tuesday evening in the court-ordered recount of the at-large Atlantic County commissioner race, Board of Elections Chair Lynn Caterson said.

That leaves about 27,000 vote-by-mail and provisional ballots yet to be handled. The recount, which began Thursday, continues Wednesday.

Atlantic County Assignment Judge Julio Mendez ordered the elections board to recount all ballots not already recounted in a previous audit and partial recount. That is about 135,000 of the 143,000 ballots cast in the election in Atlantic County, Caterson estimated.

He also ordered all ballots with undervotes or overvotes be set aside, viewed carefully and recounted by hand by members of the board from both parties to determine the voter’s intent.

Undervotes happen when the scanner indicates a ballot contains no vote or too few votes in a particular race, which can be mistakenly caused by a voter not pressing hard enough when filling out a ballot.

Overvotes happen when the scanner reads that votes were cast for too many candidates in a race, and can be mistakenly caused by a fold or mark on the paper not made by the voter.

In both cases, no vote is recorded.

“It’s possible we could be done sometime on Thursday — maybe even Wednesday,” Caterson said of the scanning portion of the recount.

Caterson is seeing a lot of voter mistakes on ballots the machine called undervotes.

“Some people used the wrong color pen,” such as purple, pink, metallic blue and red, Caterson said. Instructions told voters to use only a blue or black ink pen.

“None counted as votes,” Caterson said, because the scanner did not pick up other ink colors.

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When the board goes through them visually, the voter’s intent can be determined by human eyes.

“Two voters carefully took a black pen and made a circle around the bullet,” Caterson said. Again, the scanning machine can only pick up the filled-in inside of the bullet, so called those undervotes as well. “And another person created their own bubbles to the left.”

The bottom line is, Caterson said, if you want your vote to count, you have to follow the instructions on the ballot.

Caterson said machine problems Thursday and Friday slowed the process, but on Monday, the board got the use of a larger, faster scanner from contractor ES&S and the pace quickened.

Incumbent Republican John Risley was certified one of two winners in the four-candidate field, with the second-highest vote count. Democrat Celeste Fernandez, behind Risley by just 381 votes, contested the results and asked for a recount because of the slim margin of victory.

An appellate panel agreed Fernandez should get a full recount and sent it back to Mendez to finalize orders.

The ballots are run through the scanners, and any ballot identified as containing an undervote in the at-large race — meaning no vote was cast or just one was cast — is put aside. The same is done for overvotes, which are identified when someone votes for too many people in a race.

Incumbent Democrat Caren Fitzpatrick was the highest vote-getter in the race, with 67,600, and Risley the second highest with 66,427.

Fernandez was third with 66,046, and Somers Point’s James Toto was fourth with 64,566 votes.

Both undervotes and overvotes will be looked at by the board, which is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans.

If a majority of the board cannot agree on whether a vote should count, a judge will make the decision.

Fernandez has argued that some of the 21,500 undervotes and 750 overvotes estimated from the first count may be incorrect and if properly counted could change the outcome in her favor.

To watch the proceedings, find Zoom instructions at atlantic-county.org/board-of-elections.

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:

609-272-7210

mpost@pressofac.com

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Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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