Provisional ballots change outcome of very close Springfield election

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It was not until the provisional ballots were counted that Margaret Bandrowski beat incumbent Jerry Fernandez by a mere five votes.

SPRINGFIELD—Springfield’s incumbent Committeeman Jerry Fernandez learned the hard way that every vote counts, having to stand by and watch as a slim, unofficial lead on election night dwindled, and his position on the governing body ultimately disappeared.

Initially, on election night, the incumbent Republican held a slim margin of victory, but everyone knew the election was not quite over.

When pressed for comment before the election certification, Fernandez simply said he would not comment before anything was official, and indicated he had not decided any course of action to take as of Monday morning.

On the other side of the political aisle, Margaret Bandrowski, a Democrat, also held her breath and remained reserved.

“Well, on election night, I think I was down by 10 or 12 votes,” Bandrowski said. “It was disappointing, but it was close, so that was a good feeling. And I knew that there would be some other results coming in.”

“Margaret was actually quite surprised,” said Democrat Committee member David Amlin. “She was resigning herself to the fact that she wasn’t going to get in,” he said.

In fact, the election in Springfield was very close on all fronts, with no candidate receiving an overwhelming victory when the unofficial results from Nov. 6 were tallied. And as far as those “other results” Bandrowski spoke of, everyone involved was well aware the provisional ballots were yet to be counted, and the election was not quite over. Fernandez and Bandrowski would have to wait.

According to Linda Donnelly, the township clerk of Springfield, provisional ballots are questionable ballots that must be examined more closely before being counted, due to possible irregularities.

“If I go to vote,” Donnelly explained, “and my name is tagged, it could be that I requested a mail-in ballot, and therefore I am not allowed to vote on the machine.”

In that instance, the ballot is filled out manually, and it is later checked by Donnelly’s office whether or not the individual used their mail-in ballot. If not, then the vote counts.

“If someone changed voting locations and did not inform,” Donnelly continued, “or a voter’s registration info is missing,” their ballots will be held as provisional and not immediately tallied.

“And I’m sure a couple people went to vote who were not registered,” she said.

Those provisional ballots would not count.

And while the provisional ballot played a large part in this year’sSpringfieldelection, the mail-in ballots also had a role.

“With the storm, everything was held up,” Donnelly said. “A lot of mail-in ballots were stamped that would have qualified, but were delivered after the deadline. And then there were the email ballots,” due to superstorm Sandy, which Gov. Chris Christie authorized as a means of voting.

Voting deadlines were extended. Certification time tables were expanded. And candidates waited with muted messages, hoping the outcome would sway in their favor. Then early last week word came out that the final tally was within just a handful of votes, with Bandrowski holding onto a very slim margin of victory, and official certification still a week away.

“It’s not over yet. I’m kind of still waiting. We will be much happier when the results are certified. It’s kind of just been a very strange state of suspended animation waiting to know what happened,” said Bandrowski last week prior to the result being official. “I think it’s obviously very difficult for Jerry Fernandez and myself not to know.”

And so, nearly three weeks after the November General Election, on Monday, Nov. 26, Margaret Bandrowski was declared the winner of the election for Springfield Township Committee, besting Jerry Fernandez by a mere five vote: 3208 to 3203.

In addition to Margaret Bandrowski’s turn around victory for the Democrats, her running mate, David Barnett, was also elected to the township committee. The pair will give the Democrats a 4-1 advantage over the Republicans, who had been in power for the previous year.

Current Mayor Ziad Shehady, the lone Republican, could not be reached for comment. But according to Democratic committee members, he should not expect to be mayor too much longer. The 4-member Democratic “super majority” is expected to choose a new mayor from within their own ranks to kick off the new year.

When asked if he could let the residents know who they might expect as next year’s mayor, Amlin showed his small flare for the dramatic.

“I have an idea, but I guess we’ll keep the suspense for a little while longer,” he said.

However, Amlin did note that the super majority the Democrats will have gives them the power to act, if they should so choose.

“The advantage of a super majority,” Amlin said, “is the one thing we can do that a simple majority cannot, is to bond. The committee needs a two-thirds vote to pass a bond ordinance, which is why during the earlier part of the year, when they were putting through bond for the turf field, it was very important they had support from one or both of the us.”

Amlin, though, expressed no current intentions of voting on a bond ordinance, instead he was just simply pointing out the benefit of a super majority.

And as far as the close election results, Amlin’s reaction was just as surprised as the candidates.

“I feel for Jerry. Regardless of where our political allegiance lies, I know it’s tough to go through something like that.  I’m sorry for Jerry, but I’m happy for Margaret.”

And as for getting along with the sole remaining Republican left on the Springfield committee, Mayor Shehady, Amlin hoped for the best.

“He’s a little upset with me. The last discussion that the two of us had didn’t end well.”

According to Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, there is no automatic recount in an election this close.

“There is no margin of error. It’s not like we have 10 thousand votes here. Someone has to petition the court for a recount after I certify it,” she said. “Once it’s certified, then they can start that process if they so wish.”

Fernandez did not express his intentions regarding a possible challenge. But if he did choose to challenge the results, NJSA 19:28-1 says candidates have 15 days from certification to file an application for a recount of election returns.

Patrick Bober is the Regional Editor of Union County LocalSource. He can be reached at 908-686-7700, or at editorial@thelocalsource.com