Ballots rechecked - again - in 2d District race

Posted: November 28, 2013

NORTHFIELD, N.J. These weren't slot machines, lined side by side inside a warehouse here.

But their numbers - the votes cast in each machine - could pay off with a prized Assembly seat for one of two candidates awaiting their fate.

The machines were used in the Nov. 5 election between Republican incumbent John Amodeo and Democratic challenger Vince Mazzeo in the Second Legislative District in Atlantic County.

They were rechecked this month after the two men finished just 379 votes apart on election night.

On Tuesday, the four Atlantic County Board of Elections commissioners and their staff had the task of again rechecking all 243 machines in the county Voting Machine Warehouse, under the vigilant eyes of both candidates' attorneys and other stakeholders.

Two teams of 10 each, evenly made up of Republicans and Democrats, fanned out on both sides of the warehouse to begin checking machines from 17 towns.

Each machine was turned on and inspected to make sure it was operating properly, and its serial number was read aloud. A technician pulled out the tape listing the votes cast for all five district Assembly candidates - Mazzeo, Amodeo, Democrat Vince Russo, Republican incumbent Chris Brown, and independent Gary Stein - and their totals, and read them out loud.

A Board of Elections staffer then walked the tape to Democratic Board Chairwoman Paula S. Dunn, who was seated at a table next to Sue Sandman, a Republican clerk of the board, to compare it with a tape printout from election night to make sure they were identical.

This was repeated for every machine from 10 a.m. until about 6 p.m.

"It's part of the checks and balances," Dunn said as she looked up from comparing the tapes. "It's sort of a Noah's ark - one Democrat and one Republican for each team of checkers."

Machines from Northfield, where Mazzeo is mayor, were completed first, followed by Absecon, Buena Borough, and Buena Vista Township.

In the later half of the day, machines from Egg Harbor City, Egg Harbor Township, Folsom, Atlantic City, Brigantine, Margate, and Ventnor were checked. Longport, Somers Point, Hamilton, Pleasantville, Mullica, and Linwood were left for Wednesday.

Egg Harbor Township and Atlantic City combined made up 87 of the 243 machines, or 36 percent.

The hand recount of 7,500 mail-in and provisional ballots will start at 9 a.m. Friday at the Board of Elections office in Mays Landing, according to Dunn. All four commissioners voted to begin that process Friday after the machine recheck was fully completed.

Amodeo and Mazzeo each paid a brief visit to the warehouse Tuesday to check on how things were going - which was slowly, since the machines had to be turned on one at a time.

"There's a lot of machines, and everyone's conscientious that it goes as smoothly as possible," said Chris Orlando, Democratic attorney for Mazzeo.

All didn't go smoothly on election night, according to Republicans. On Tuesday, Republican attorney Randolph Lafferty sent a letter to George N. Cohen, deputy state attorney general, asking his office to investigate an allegation of improper handling of a vote-by-mail ballot by Dunn in conjunction with another board member.

"This is another circumstance that causes grave concern about the integrity of this election," Lafferty said Tuesday night.

Dunn declined to comment on the letter.

When the results are in, expected to be next week, it will be the third time a winner will be declared.

Amodeo gave a victory speech on election night after tallies showed him 379 votes ahead of Mazzeo.

Two weeks later, the county clerk and Board of Elections certified Mazzeo the winner by 40 votes after 22 hours of acrimonious counting of provisional ballots.

The Elections Board opened 115 provisional ballots after Superior Court Judge Julio L. Mendez ordered that the ballots, which were contested by Republicans as having been improperly handled, should be counted.

The certified totals had Mazzeo with 25,164 votes to Amodeo's 25,124.

Amodeo, a third-term incumbent from Margate, petitioned Superior Court on Thursday and won a recount from Mendez.

"It's incredibly important for people to know that their votes are actually counted," said Gloria Andersen, 63, of Voorhees, a retired teacher who is a part-time tutor and volunteer, and who has followed the race closely.

856-779-3928 @SuzParmley

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