‘Human error’ may have caused problems with Princeton provisional votes


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By Philip Sean Curran
Staff Writer

Provisional ballots had to be rejected because of possible “human error” by poll workers in four voting districts in Princeton on Election Day, Nov. 6, the head of the Mercer County Board of Elections announced on Nov. 28.

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The board’s chairwoman, Joanne Palmucci, addressed a meeting of Princeton council candidates, school board candidates and others in the Witherspoon Hall municipal building and called it “very unfortunate this happened.”

Ballots are supposed to be put in bags and sealed properly for transport to county election officials for processing. According to state law, ballots have to be rejected if the bags are not closed properly because the chain of custody is broken, she said.

“In this case, there were four districts that had open bags, which is almost unheard of and uncalled for,” Palmucci said.

She said the problem occurred in voting districts 5, 9, 11 and 17, whose polling locations are the municipal building on Witherspoon Street, the Community Park School and the Riverside Elementary School, respectively.

The Community Park School is the polling place for districts 9 and 11.

A total of 63 provisional ballots were used in those four locations, Palmucci showed. Three ballots were voided, she said, later explaining that can happen when a voter makes a mistake and needs another ballot. In addition, about seven other ballots would have been rejected because of “bad signatures” during the verification process, she said.

In a follow-up interview, Palmucci said other ballots would have been rejected because the voters were not registered.

Palmucci provided figures that showed District 5 had seven ballots; District 9 had 18 ballots, one of which was voided; District 11 had 36 ballots, two of which were voided; and District 17 had two ballots.

The error would not have changed the outcome of any race even if every one of those votes was counted, as the closest contest was a Princeton Public Schools Board of Education race in which board member Betsy Baglio won re-election by 91 votes.

“Every voter deserves to have their vote counted,” Baglio said after attending the meeting.

Board member Dafna Kendal, who finished behind Baglio in fourth place among five candidates, did not attend the meeting and declined to comment.

Mayor Liz Lempert, who called for the meeting, said afterward it would have been “disastrous” if the mistake had affected the outcome of any race.

“It’s still distressing,” she said. “Everybody deserves to have their vote counted.”

Princeton voters will go to the polls again on Dec. 11 to decide a $26.9 million bond referendum the school board has placed on the ballot.

In her remarks, Palmucci touched on that upcoming election, saying, “I promise we are doing our very best to get our best board workers, including master board workers, there to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

She said the Board of Elections is scheduled to meet that same day and plans to call in the board workers from the four polling places to give their side of what occurred on Nov. 6.

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