ROSELLE, NJ — In the borough of Roselle, it ain’t over even when it’s over.
After Column G Democratic candidates for council Cynthia Johnson and Denise Wilkerson pulled off surprise primary wins on June 6 over Roselle Democratic Committee-backed candidates Andrea Staten and Richard Villeda, the two defeated candidates demanded a recount.
The request has been granted, and the recount was scheduled for June 28.
Staten, who lost to Johnson and who currently serves as the borough’s 3rd Ward councilwoman, along with Villeda, a Roselle Board of Education member who lost his bid for 1st Ward councilman to Wilkerson, filed the Application for Recount and Recheck on June 20 in Superior Court. The complaint was served upon Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, the Union County Board of Elections and the Union County Board of Canvassers.
LocalSource has obtained a copy of the complaint.
According to the complaint, approximately 550 ballots were cast in the Democratic primary election in the 1st Ward, with Wilkerson’s margin of victory 16 votes.
In the 3rd Ward, approximately 549 ballots were cast, with Johnson’s margin of victory 24 votes.
Final tally results had Johnson with 251 votes to Staten’s 227 votes, while Wilkerson received 256 votes to Villeda’s 240 votes.
“Petitioners have reason to believe, and do believe, that errors were made in the counting of the votes from each district within both the 1st Ward and 3rd Ward in the borough of Roselle, its tabulation by each District Board and by the Union County Board of Elections/Board of Canvassers, and in declaring the results of the subject election,” reads the complaint. “Upon information and belief such errors resulted in an error in the overall tabulation resulting in Ms. Wilkerson in the 1st Ward and Ms. Johnson in the 3rd Ward being declared the winners of the Democratic primary election.”
According to the complaint, the Union County Board of Elections and the Union County clerk were named respondents in the suit because each has “custody and control of materials necessary to effectuate a recount and recheck.”
“The aforesaid petitioner demands a recheck of the machines, irregular ballots and emergency ballots and hand recount of the mail-in ballots and provisional ballots, for all votes cast within the 1st Ward and 3rd Ward of the borough of Roselle for the subject election,” reads the complaint. “Petitioners further request that, because of the narrow margin of votes separating petitioners from the declared winners in the respective ward races, a recount and recheck will protect the sanctity of the ballot which serves the public interest in the outcome of the election.”
The suit states that the Union County Board of Elections is the custodian of the mail-in ballot applications, envelopes, mail-in ballots, emergency ballots, provisional ballots, affirmations and envelopes, and that the “Union County Board of Elections is charged with the duty of conducting the recheck of the machines and the mail-in ballots in accordance with the requirements of the election laws.”
According to N.J.S.A. 19:52-6, states the complaint, voting machines have the counter-compartment locked and it remains locked for 15 days following an election, and that “within such period, and upon written request of any defeated candidate, a Judge of the Superior Court assigned to the county shall, at a cost of $2 per district to the candidate, order the machines in question opened and the registering counters for mechanical votes and write-in votes/irregular ballots rechecked against the election officer’s returns.”
The suit also states that a second statute, N.J.S.A. 19:28-1, provides for a recount of the mail-in ballots and that the petitioners “apply for a recheck of the aforesaid voting machines for all districts and a recount of the mail-in ballots and provisional ballots cast, and any other paper ballots cast in and for all districts within the 1st Ward and 3rd Ward of the Borough of Roselle.”
The complaint asks for the judge to order the impoundment of the voting machines kept by the Union County Board of Elections, “until such time as the results of the recount and recheck have been certified.”
Both Staten and Villeda were endorsed by Assemblyman Jamel Holley, former mayor of Roselle, and Councilman at-large Reginald Atkins, Roselle’s Democratic municipal chairman.
Sources told LocalSource that the day after the election, Holley went down to county board of elections to seek a recount.
Holley did not respond to LocalSources’ request for comment. Kraig Dowd, attorney for both Staten and Villeda, did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment. Robert Barry, attorney representing the county, also did not respond to request for comment.
The complaint demands a recounting and rechecking of machines, emergency ballots and irregular ballots, a hand count of the mail-in ballots and provisional ballots, an examination of the rejected mail-in ballots and provisional ballots and “any other documents and records related to the primary election.”
According to Rajoppi, Judge Mark Ciarrocca has granted the request for a recount.
“They’ve requested a recount, which they are entitled to,” Rajoppi told LocalSource in a recent phone interview. “They will be checking machines, absentee ballots and any provisional ballots that may be voted.”
The recount was scheduled for Wednesday, June 28.
Staten told LocalSource in a June 22 email that a close race demands a recount.
“In regards to the primary election results, with such a close race, I would just like to be assured that every vote was properly and accurately counted,” Staten said. “Roselle residents deserve that.”
Villeda did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment.
Atkins noted the opposition and cited the turmoil that he believes they have created as reason for the recount.
‘I am concerned about the things I’ve seen, experienced and heard about in this election, especially with the opposition and their known antics and drama,” Atkins told LocalSource in a June 23 email. “This was a hard-fought election where a difference of only a dozen or fewer votes meant the difference between victory and defeat. The residents and our candidates, who are well qualified with years of experience, deserve to know that their votes were counted correctly and should have peace of mind that there was no meddling in our election and that everything that was done was proper.”
Johnson said that she is confident in the primary election results.
“I ran a clean, fair race,” Johnson told LocalSource in a recent phone interview. “I’m going to have two victories — one right after the election, and another after the recount.”
The complaint comes in the midst of much drama and chaos in the borough, as the rift between several members of council and Roselle Mayor Christine Dansereau and her allies continues to widen.
Both Staten and Atkins have been outspoken critics of Dansereau, as is Holley. Last month, four members of council were no-shows at the May 17 council meeting, accusing Dansereau of creating a hostile environment. Prior to that, Holley and Dansereau were involved in a legal battle, with Dansereau accusing Holley of harassment and later filing a complaint against him.