NJ investigates Monmouth County election after double counting may have flipped one race

TRENTON - Former state Attorney General and federal prosecutor Peter C. Harvey, now in private practice, has been tapped to head the investigation into the 2022 Monmouth County election, where an error led to the double counting of votes in a few towns, and throwing the results of one, the Ocean Township Board of Education race, into disarray.

“Protecting New Jerseyans’ right to vote in a free and fair election is paramount to our democracy, and ensuring the integrity of that process is essential,” Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said in a prepared statement announcing the retention of Harvey.

“Based on public reports regarding the 2022 General Election in Monmouth County, 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,” Platkin said.

Harvey, from the law firm Patterson, Belknap, Webb and Tyler, will determine whether any person or entity has engaged in any practice deemed unlawful under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act. In addition, based on the investigation, the firm will propose public recommendations for reform for future elections in the state. The firm has agreed to be retained on a pro bono basis.

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Four Monmouth County towns — Belmar, Fair Haven, Ocean and Tinton Falls — were impacted, though it appears only the results of the Ocean Board of Education race were affected enough to change a result.

In that race, Steve Clayton, a former board member, had defeated incumbent Jeffrey Weinstein by a count of 3,523 to 3,503. Clayton even took his seat in the January reorganization. However, under the new totals Clayton told the Asbury Park Press previously that he is now one vote behind pending the recount.

Steve Clayton
Steve Clayton

Monmouth County officials did not say when the Ocean election results would be resolved, however the Monmouth County Commissioners and the Board of Elections issued a joint statement on the news of Harvey's probe, pointing toward its contractor, Elections Systems & Software.

“Monmouth County Election Offices welcome and support any investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General into Election Systems & Software’s election software issue. We have already been working with the Attorney General’s Office on this problem," the statement read. "Monmouth County Election Offices have also called on the state of New Jersey to require recertification of election systems — including election machines and software — both annually and whenever there is a modification to the election software. 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. Again, our top priority is ensuring the integrity of the voting process for the residents of Monmouth County.”

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Katina Granger, a spokesperson for Election System & Software, the software company Monmouth County uses, previously told the Asbury Park Press that the company was asked by the county to review the election data, which revealed that a technician inadvertently loaded votes twice in error.

"Typically our software blocks this from happening. Unfortunately, a human error in a July software reinstallment missed the step that would have flagged the mistake. This anomaly is isolated to Monmouth County. The integrity of elections are ultimately protected by a series of checks and balances, and we’re grateful for an audit that revealed this human error," Granger said.

In July, ES&S technicians were sent to Monmouth County to investigate reports of slow performance on the county’s internal network, she said. During troubleshooting, technicians uninstalled and reinstalled the county’s election management software. A human procedural error during reinstallation excluded a step, which optimizes the system database and ensures USB flash media cannot be read twice during the results loading process, Granger said.

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Because the database was not optimized, the user was not notified when the USB flash media were loaded twice into the results reporting module, Granger said.

“Elections are the cornerstone of our democracy, and our elections must always be free and fair,” said Sundeep Iyer, director of the state's Division on Civil Rights in a prepared statement. “It is critical that our elections comply with all applicable civil rights laws. Voters in New Jersey deserve no less. I am grateful for Attorney General Platkin’s continued leadership in protecting the right to vote.”

When Jersey Shore native Dan Radel is not reporting the news, you can find him in a college classroom where he is a history professor. Reach him @danielradelapp; 732-643-4072; dradel@gannettnj.com.

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Monmouth County NJ election: Double-counted votes under investigation