November 12, 2022
TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–In the wake of numerous issues with voting and counting on Election Day, challenges that are still under investigation, Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes is calling for a thorough public review of what went wrong and a comprehensive overhaul of the elections process in Mercer County.
“After issues in the last two elections, I have come to the conclusion that we must fundamentally change the management of the election process in Mercer County because it is clearly not working,” the County Executive said. “There are legal limits to what I can do as County Executive but rest assured that I will do everything within my power to ensure the integrity of elections in Mercer County and will tolerate nothing less.”
In Mercer County, three separate entities, the Board of Elections, the Superintendent of Elections, and the Office of the County Clerk each plays a role in elections. Board of Elections commissioners are appointed by the respective County Chairs of the Republican and Democratic Parties, the Superintendent of Elections is an appointee of the Governor, and the County Clerk is an elected position.
“I am happy that Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami-Covello requested that the County Prosecutor look into the election. But we also need a more thorough and public review. We’ve got too many people in control and the quality of our elections has suffered as a result, undermining peoples’ faith in the democratic process,” Mr. Hughes said.
Moving forward, County Executive Hughes proposes the following:
- Request a special meeting of the Commissioner Board to bring together the Clerk, Superintendent and Election Board Chair explain to the public what went wrong.
- Reform and simplify our election process by merging and unifying the Office of the Superintendent and the Board into one, and having an experienced Executive Director oversee our elections.
- Call on legislators to enact changes that will allow Mercer County to reform our system.
- Pledge any county resources needed to ensure every vote is counted and help get to the bottom of what went wrong hasten and conclude investigation.
“I pledge to you that we will get to the bottom of this and that every vote will be counted,” Mr. Hughes said. “I have listened to the people of Mercer County and have spoken with election officials, and we are committed to finding out how we can improve the election process and to prevent future incidents as the one on Election Day.”
In Mercer County, the Office of the County Executive does not supervise the Board, their offices, nor does it have jurisdiction. The board is responsible for selecting polling places, training board workers, receiving and counting vote-by-mail ballots, and counting and certifying provisional ballots. The Superintendent of Elections handles voter registration, renews registration records, investigates provisional ballots, and is the custodian of voting machines. The County Clerk designs and prints all election ballots, processes vote by mail applications, and officially certifies the election results.
File photo: Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes
File photo: Robbinsville Township Mayor Dave Fried
Robbinsville Township Mayor Dave Fried said in a Facebook post:
“Regarding the events of Election Day, here is what we know so far.
Either the machine scanners did not work, or the ballots were printed incorrectly and the machines did their jobs and correctly spit them out as invalid. An investigation is reportedly under way, and Robbinsville will join other elected officials across Mercer County to see that the investigation is complete and transparent.
Let me be clear: I am not blaming anyone. Honestly, I do not know how this happened. Pointing fingers without all the facts is not productive. We do know that this is the second straight year the County process did not work as it should have, and I am not happy with much of what I saw.
One of the basic tenets of our democracy is the right to vote, and that every vote will be counted.
As of today, it appears our District 5 ballots (Library) have been found after having been misplaced. That information was given directly to our Municipal Clerk Michele Seigfried from the County.
Just a quick note about our clerk’s office. Michele and her team of Deputy Clerk Kaitlyn Macellaro and Sandy DeLorenzo performed exceptionally under extremely difficult conditions this past week. I cannot thank them enough for their service to our Township. The same goes for our Administration team, led by B.A. Joy Tozzi, each of whom worked all hours of the day and night in the chaotic aftermath of Election Day.
Over in Princeton, it seems they discovered ballots still in their machines. During in-person voting on Election Day, two slots for placing ballots were used. The first was the so-called emergency slot. This was used in the early part of the day because officials had hoped the scanner problems could be fixed before polls closed. As the day went on, that emergency bin became full and the scanners were removed so the main bin could be used. They discovered Princeton’s ballots were still in some of those containers since both sides were not emptied. It also appears that the documentation of the chain of custody regarding our ballots was quite poor, allowing the ballots to be apparently misplaced for a time.
The courts have ordered all the machines returned to the Mercer County Board of Elections for inspection to ensure there are no more ballots in those machines, including the ones deployed in Robbinsville.
I DO NOT believe there was any type of fraud, and I DO NOT believe there are any conspiracies at work here. I do believe mistakes were made at a time in our nation when it can ill-afford to stumble on Election Day.
We have spent millions of dollars on these machines and ballots, and they clearly did not work as advertised. It is time to reassess and come up with a better system. Those of you who voted early did not seem to have any issues. Perhaps we need to consider moving entirely in that direction. I will be attending all upcoming Mercer County Commissioner’s meetings until we have a real and fortified plan. Together, I am hopeful we will come up with a solution. Robbinsville has no intention of paying for this process unless real change is implemented.
I have no reason to believe, even with ballots that may or may not still be out there, that our local results will change.
Thus, I sincerely congratulate our three new Board of Education members – Jeffrey Pierro, Raghu Nandan and Peter Oehlberg. I wish each of you the best of luck, and I am sorry your first election was fraught with so much turmoil.
I have always said putting your name on a ballot is one of the most difficult – but potentially rewarding things – a person can do. Although no candidate should have to wait days for results in 2022, each of you earned your rightful place among your other BOE members.
While Ballot Question #1, which sought to combine our Planning and Zoning Boards into a consolidated Land Use Board, did pass, Ballot Question #2 regarding an increase in our Open Space tax to preserve more land and slow development did not. I know times are tough. That is why we put items such as these questions on the ballot. Sometimes we think we know what the residents want, but this process helps us know for certain.”
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