Princeton provisional ballots deemed invalid by election official

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Provisional ballots in approximately four voting districts in Princeton were not allowed to be counted for legal reasons because the bags in which the votes were put were either not sealed or not sealed properly, a Mercer County election official said on Nov. 14.

The number of provisional votes or the voting districts they came from were not immediately available.

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“Unfortunately, you train the board workers, they do the best they can and sometimes they slip up,” Joanne Palmucci, chairwoman of the Mercer County Board of Elections, said on Nov. 14. “Sometimes it’s not their fault, sometimes it is.”

Palmucci said if bags are left open or not sealed properly, the law says “we have to reject those ballots because it breaks the chain of custody from the time it leaves the polling location to the municipal clerk’s office and from that back to the superintendent (of elections) office.”

She said the poll workers at the voting districts would be given a chance to explain what happened.

“Then we’ll take it from there,” Palmucci said.

Mayor Liz Lempert said on Nov. 14 that she was not aware of the polling districts at which the issues occurred.

“Obviously, it’s extremely concerning,” she said. “I don’t think anything is more important for a democracy than making sure that when people vote, we do everything we can to make sure those votes get counted.”

In terms of any impact the problem had on election outcomes, most of the races on the ballot were not close, although a seat on the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education was won by 91 votes. Incumbent Betsy Baglio finished ahead of fellow incumbent and running mate Dafna Kendal 4,451 to 4,360, according to results at the Mercer County Clerk’s Office.

“I am astounded this happened in Princeton in 2018,” Kendal said on Nov. 14 of the mistake with the provisional ballots. “This is an indication that some procedures weren’t followed. And so what other procedures weren’t followed?”

Later in the day, Kendal said she accepted the outcome of the election after initially declining to do so.

Baglio could not be reached for comment.

One school board candidate said she believes poll workers need better training and supervision.

“The issue seems to be more a matter of training of the poll workers,” said Mary Clurman, who finished last among the five candidates with 4,206 votes. “My understanding is that the poll workers are underpaid and nobody wants the job and it’s a 14-hour day.”

As for the school board race, Baglio and newcomers Brian McDonald, with 5,102 votes, and Daniel Dart, with 4,688 votes, won the three seats for three-year-terms that begin in January.

“The people we entrust to administer the election need to do everything they can to make sure every vote is counted,” McDonald said on Nov. 14. “On that level, it is somewhere between worrying and very unfortunate.”

Princeton is less than a month away from having another election. On Dec. 11, voters will decide a bond referendum for $26.9 million to pay for facilities projects at district schools.

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