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SOUTH RIVER, NJ—While the high-profile races in Middlesex County's November 7 elections were all landslide victories for incumbents favored to win, many local races for municipal and school offices came down to the wire.
Just three votes separated victory and defeat in the South River Borough Council race, according to preliminary results. Meanwhile, the winners and losers in the borough's Board of Education race were separated by just 77 votes.
Republican incumbent Councilman Joao "John" Sapata garnered 1,378 votes, according to the initial results, good enough for second-place and another term on the Council.
But Democrat Sandra M. Adelino, the third-place finisher, is right behind him in the tally, with 1,375 votes, making the race one of two in the county that remain "too close to call" the day after the voting.
The winner of the South River race may depend on which "provisional" votes the Middlesex County Board of Elections decides to count. Provisional ballots are paper ballots that are given to individuals whose names do not appear on the official voter rolls.
"We’re working on [the provisional ballots]… So far… South River has 42," said James Vokral, the Board of Elections longtime administrator on November 8.
The Board's staff will make an initial recommendation as to which ballots should be counted, but their decisions are open to being challenged by any voters who choose to.
Ultimately, the four-member election board makes the final decision in a public meeting at 4PM on Monday, November 13 at their East Brunswick office, located at 11 Kennedy Boulevard.
"If there are any challenged ballots, they will be reviewed at that meeting," said Elections Administrator Jim Vokral. "Any unchallenged ballots will be counted during the day and all challenged ballots which were accepted by the commissioners at that meeting, will be added to that count."
"Someone from the County Clerk’s office will be there to present the Provisional Ballot results after all have been counted," added Vokral.
The 42 provisionals in South River could easily shift the outcome of the Borough Council race, but they won't be enough to swing the 77-vote margin in the school board race.
Preliminary results released by the County Clerk's Office on November 8 already include 22,359 "mail-in" votes countywide, in addition to 155,687 votes cast using the standard electronic voting machines found at polling places across New Jersey.
All told, according to the unofficial election results, ten local races in the county saw a margin of victory less than 100 votes.
In South Amboy, just six votes separate Shannon Gonzalez and Jessica Colacci in a 448-442 fight for third-place finish in that city's Board of Education race. The top three vote-getters will take office, while a fourth-place finish is a loss.
That race, too, could hinge on two dozen provisional ballots that may or may not be counted, according to Vokral.
Forty-three votes separate the winners and losers in Cranbury's school board election, but the 18 provisional votes cast won't be enough to change the outcome.
Cranbury also saw a close race for Township Committee, where Republican Nancy Witt came up 66 votes short in her race against Democrat Matthew A. Scott. The preliminary tally there stands at 688-622.
Milltown and Dunellen saw even closer races for the seats on their Borough Councils.
In Milltown, Democrats and Republicans ran two candidates each for two open seats, and each party appears to have one winner and one loser based on the unofficial numbers.
Democrat Trina Jensen Mehr came in first place with 1,218 votes, but it was Republican incumbent Ronald "Ron Dizon, who came in second place with 1,175 votes. Trailing 40 votes behind was Democrat Phil Zambrana with 1,135 and Republican Stacy D. Sullivan with 1,125.
Meanwhile, Dunellen proved to be another tiny town with a close municipal race. Just 65 votes made the difference in the four-way race for two seats.
Like in Milltown, the two major parties split the vote almost equally, with one candidate from each party coming out on top.
Republican Kenneth Bayer came in first place, earning 763 votes so far, followed closely by Democrat Jessica Dunne, who pulled down 757 votes. Their losing running mates came in at 698 votes and 695 votes respectively.
But in each of those towns, it appears there won't be enough provisional ballots to swing the results before they become official. Nevertheless, it's possible that one or more candidates who come out on the losing end could ask for a recount.
While it was mostly small communities that experienced close races, at least a couple of the county's larger municipalities saw at least one close finish.
Old Bridge uses a system of ward-based elections where each part of the township gets to elect their own representative in a hyperlocal election.
Democrats and Republicans ended up with three seats each, and most of the races were close. The Township's Sixth Ward was home to its closest race, where just 75 votes separated the victor, Republican John E. Murphy III, and Democrat opponent Kenneth R. Totten.
Sayreville also saw a couple of close races, with 92 votes separating the winners and losers in a five-way school board race, and just 150 votes separating the victorious Democrats and the pair of Republicans who lost that race.
Perth Amboy's school board race ended up with an 82-vote margin of victory, according to the unofficial results.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.