The majority of the 4,500 paper ballots cast in Burlington County in the close Third District congressional race likely will be counted in the final tally, the county superintendent of elections said Tuesday after his staff had worked 10- to 12-hour days since Saturday analyzing the ballots.
Those provisional ballots, and 2,400 more in Ocean County, are expected to be examined Wednesday so that an official winner can finally be declared in the race where Democrat Andy Kim, a newcomer to politics, challenged two-term Republican U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur.
The race, which is being watched nationally, includes most municipalities in Democratic-leaning Burlington County and part of Republican-leaning Ocean County. Kim has an unofficial 3,427-vote lead against MacArthur.
Some Burlington County election officials say Kim's lead should hold after all the provisional votes are counted because most are in Burlington County and they should follow the trend at the polls and via Vote-by-Mail in favor of Kim.
Election officials said the counting by the two counties' Boards of Elections could last into the evening Wednesday.
"Probably 90 to 95 percent of the provisionals would be counted," said Burlington County Superintendent of Elections George Kotch. "If people go to the polls, usually they're permitted to vote."
Many of those voters had a recent change in address, which is why their names were not included in the heavy, bound poll books at their new voting place, he said.
He recalled that at least one ballot had to be stamped "unregistered voter" because the person who cast it on Election Day is a convicted felon and not eligible to vote.
MacArthur has not conceded, saying he wants to wait until all of the votes are counted.
Late last week, Kim's margin grew to about 4,300 votes after Burlington counted additional votes that were found on machine cartridges that had not been delivered by poll workers to election headquarters on Election Night. That number dropped after Ocean County added hundreds of mail-in votes had that arrived within 48 hours of Election Day and then hundreds of military ballots from overseas.
Kotch said the 17 employees in his office have spent the last four days investigating the reasons 4,500 voters in Burlington County were handed provisional ballots. These voters were not permitted to go behind the curtain in their polling place, and had to fill out paper ballots because their names were not in the poll books. The research involves a time-consuming process designed to make sure every eligible vote is counted, Kotch said Tuesday.
"We're doing a lot of work to check to see if a person should vote or not vote," he said.
In Ocean County, assistant elections supervisor Jason Varano said Tuesday that most of the provisional ballots cast in the Third District were already analyzed and that representatives of the two candidates were invited to review the ballots and findings. He said Ocean County does not have a superintendent of elections, but the Board of Elections staff worked 12-hour days over the weekend to go through the ballots and poll books. The final decision will rest with the board on Wednesday, he said.
"We have to investigate if you applied for a mail-in ballot, or if you moved, and we have to verify this," Varano said.
Kotch said the Vote-by-Mail ballots and provisional votes played a big role in this year's elections because of record-breaking voter turnout in the midterms. But he predicted that in a few years, voting procedures may change radically. In Florida, he said, convicted felons who have served their sentences may be eligible to vote under a change in the law. "Some people estimate that could add one million voters to the rolls," he said.