Most Essex towns vote blue in election, keeping Democratic incumbents

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — The Nov. 2 election in New Jersey saw some major upsets, low voter turnout and the Democrats losing ground. The biggest upset was Republican challenger Edward Durr seemingly defeating Democratic incumbent Senate President Stephen Sweeney in the 3rd Legislative District; as of press time, the results of the race had not been certified and Sweeney had not conceded.

Also shocking to many voters was how poorly Democratic incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy did at the polls. While the uncertified results show Murphy winning — making him the first Democratic governor to win a second term in 44 years — he did so by a very narrow margin. Unofficial results show Murphy with 50.97 percent of the votes and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli with 48.26 percent of the votes. None of the other challengers — Joanne Kuniansky on the Socialist Workers Party ticket; Madelyn R. Hoffman on the Green Party ticket; and Gregg Mele on the Libertarian Party ticket — broke above 0.35 percent of the votes.

While the state numbers were close in the gubernatorial election, that wasn’t the case for Essex County numbers. According to the unofficial Essex County results, which have yet to be certified by County Clerk Christopher Durkin, Murphy received nearly triple the amount of votes that Ciattarelli got. Murphy won 125,617 votes in Essex County, Ciattarelli won 43,864, Kuniansky won 280, Hoffman won 447 and Mele won 306. 

There were also two state public questions for voters to consider; both concern gambling statutes. In the first question, voters were asked to decide whether the state should pass a constitutional amendment to allow wagering on postseason college sport competitions held in New Jersey and competitions in which a New Jersey–based college team participates. Statewide, Public Question No. 1 was defeated, with 57.06 percent voting “no.” In Essex County, 52.92 percent of voters voted “no.” The second question regarded whether to allow organizations that are permitted to hold raffles to keep the raffle proceeds to support themselves. This question passed, with 64.11 percent of state voters saying “yes.” In Essex County, 65.18 percent of voters voted “yes.”

While the majority of votes went to “no” and “yes,” respectively, on the two public questions, it is still not a majority of voters, as New Jersey had dismal voter turnout this election, even with multiple methods of voting, including in-person, by mail and early in-person. According to state records, only 38 percent of eligible voters turned out this election. Voter turnout figures in Essex County and individual municipalities were not available by press time.

While votes in Essex County have not been certified yet by the county clerk, Durkin did confirm that all Election Day machine votes had been tallied as of Thursday, Nov. 4.

“We did not receive voting machine election results from 56 districts on election night,” Durkin told the newspaper on Nov. 8. “Therefore we needed to receive a court order to retrieve those results, being that voting machines are impounded for 15 days beginning at 8 p.m. election night.”

The 56 districts in question were across the county, but mostly in Newark, East Orange, Irvington, Maplewood and Montclair.

“There were 3,698 provisional ballots from early voting and Election Day voting. Those provisional ballots are being verified, and a tentative meeting date of the Board of Elections to count provisional ballots is this Friday, Nov. 12,” Durkin said. “Monday, Nov. 15, is the deadline for any voter whose vote-by-mail ballot was denied based on signature comparison or lack of signature to cure their signature and validate their ballot.”

Even with new voting machines — to vote in-person, voters filled out a paper ballot and then fed it to the voting machine themselves — and the addition of early in-person voting, Durkin said the November 2021 election operations went well.

“The general election was demanding, being that New Jersey and Essex County were implementing many updates to the voting process, but overall we experienced a successful election, giving voters more options to vote and a more secure manner in which to cast their vote,” Durkin said.

Countywide, voters overwhelmingly reelected Democratic incumbent Sheriff Armando B. Fontoura, who has served as sheriff since 1990, with 121,269 votes. Republican challenger Nicholas G. Pansini received only 37,012 votes.

In the 27th Legislative District, Democratic incumbent state Sen. Richard Codey and Assembly members John McKeon and Mila Jasey will keep their seats, with Codey winning 64.31 percent of the district’s votes against Republican challenger Adam Kraemer, and McKeon and Jasey winning 31.34 percent and 30.65 percent, respectively, against Republican challengers Kevin Ryan and Jonathan Sym.

In the 28th Legislative District, Democratic incumbent state Sen. Ronald Rice and Assembly members Ralph Caputo and Cleopatra Tucker re-won their seats, with Rice winning 77.72 percent of the district’s votes against Republican challenger Frank Contella, and Caputo and Tucker winning 39.15 percent and 39.05 percent, respectively, against Republican challengers Monique Headen and Anthony D’Angelo.

Voters in the 34th Legislative District reelected Democratic incumbent state Sen. Nia Gill and Assembly members Thomas Giblin and Britnee Timberlake, with Gill winning 78.48 percent of the district’s votes against Republican challenger Scott Pollack, and Giblin and Timberlake winning 39.18 percent and 38.81 percent, respectively, against Republican challengers Monique Headen and Anthony D’Angelo and independent challenger Clenard Childress.

In the Bloomfield Board of Education election, incumbents Michael Heller and Shane Berger received the most votes at 4,598 and 4,579, respectively, with challenger Monica Charris Tabares snagging the third and final open seat with 4,154 votes. Coming in fourth was Heller and Berger’s running mate, Satenik Margaryan, with 3,637 votes, followed by Charris Tabares’ running mates, Pedro A. Gongora and Yomara Knott, with 2,980 and 2,859 votes, respectively.

In East Orange, Democratic Mayor Ted R. Green ran for reelection unopposed, as did the following Democratic council members: Ward 1 Councilman Christopher James, Ward 3 Councilman Bergson Leneus, Ward 4 Councilwoman Tameika Garrett-Ward and Ward 5 Councilwoman Alicia Holman; all were reelected. The only contested East Orange race was for Ward 2 council member, with Democratic incumbent Christopher Awe reclaiming his seat with 1,525 votes against independent challenger Simone Jelks-Bandison, who received 104 votes.

Glen Ridge had a quiet election season, with two candidates running unopposed for two open seats on the borough council and three candidates running unopposed for three open seats on the board of education. Winning the council election were Civic Conference Committee candidates Ann Marie Morrow and Rebecca Meyer, and winning the BOE election were CCC candidates Kristin O’Neil, Anthony Bonnett and David Campbell. 

For the Maplewood Township Committee, Democratic incumbent Committeewoman Nancy J. Adams and Democratic challenger Jamaine L. Cripe ran unopposed for the two open committee seats. While there wasn’t much choice there, Maplewood ballots also included a referendum asking residents to approve installing artificial turf on the field in DeHart Park. The referendum was defeated, with 4,580 people, or 55.11 percent, voting “no” and 3,731 people, or 44.89 percent, voting “yes.” Out of 21 voting districts, only three were carried by “yes” votes.

The South Orange–Maplewood Board of Education had three vacancies and five candidates vying for election. Winning the election were challengers Qawi Telesford with 7,585 votes, Kaitlin M. Wittleder with 6,920 votes and Arun Vadlamani with 6,735 votes. Incumbent Shannon Cuttle lost her seat, garnering 5,954 votes, and challenger William Rodriguez came in a distant fifth with only 2,568 votes.

In the Orange Board of Education election, the three incumbents all retook their seats; David Kent Armstrong received 1,786 votes, Derrick Henry received 1,717 votes and Siaka Sherif received 1,701 votes. Coming in fourth and fifth were Cierra Green with 1,407 votes and Myrtha Lominy-Rhodes with 1,024 votes.

West Orange saw two challengers, Brian Rock and Eric Stevenson, run unopposed for the two open seats on the Board of Education. 

While the results detailed above are unlikely to change, the vote numbers will in the coming week, as mail-in ballots receive signature cures and as provisional ballots are tallied. The Essex County results are not official until certified by Durkin.