HILLSIDE, NJ — Jorge Batista narrowly lost by 18 votes to Dahlia Vertreese in the Dec. 5 mayoral runoff election, and is now considering subpoenaing voters to court for an election contest.
“Nothing is off the table to protect the integrity of the election,” Batista told LocalSource on Dec. 8.
He alleged that a former public official who no longer lives in town may have voted in the election, and his lawyers may want to question that person. Batista declined to name the official, but alleged it was a Vertreese supporter.
An election contest is a special court proceeding that requires a person to prove that election officials erred in the the process of certifying ballots.
Batista said he may either ask for an initial recount of all votes, or circumvent that to an election contest. Vertreese, who currently serves as the Union Board of Education president, was concerned about Batista contesting the results of the election.
“The idea of being subpoenaed to testify about how and for whom they voted violates the democratic process, and insinuates voter fraud among people who have been historically denied voting rights,” Vertreese said in a Dec. 8 statement. “I will not be deterred and shall proceed as the mayor-elect.”
Provisional ballots are paper ballots used in polling places for voters whose eligibility is at issue and must be resolved by county officials rather than poll workers, by N.J. statute.
Before provisional ballots were counted Dec. 7, Batista unofficially received 1,711 votes, 28 shy of Vertreese’s 1,739, according to the Municipal Clerk’s Office on Dec. 6.
There were 26 provisional ballots cast, not enough for Batista to close the gap, though he gained 18 votes once they were counted, Union County Board of Elections Administrator Dennis Kobitz said. The certified count, including the provisional ballots, gave Batista 1,729 votes and 1,747 for Vertreese, the Hillside municipal clerk said Dec. 11.
Vertreese came in second place in the Nov. 7 election, which saw a crowded four-way race for mayor. Batista originally came out on top with 1,624 votes Nov. 7.
Twelve candidates ran for three township council seats on Nov 7, which led to a runoff in that race too. The three candidates from Vertree’s camp — George Cook, Nancy Mondella and Craig Epps — secured their seats Dec. 5.
Vertreese said her first plan of action would be identifying opportunities to “clean up the town aesthetically and administratively.”
“I will continue to work with community leaders, not just elected officials, to help formulate block associations and community led boards that can address immediate issues like housing complaints, library maintenance and safety coalitions.”
Outgoing Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson was elected to the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders on Nov. 7.