Union BOE results unchanged after recount

UNION, NJ — A requested recount in the Union school board race slightly altered vote totals but left the results unchanged.
Linda Richardson finished atop a list of six declared candidates for three seats followed by Vito Nufrio and Sherry Shannon Higgins.

Current board President Ronnie McDowell, who ran in this year’s race, had called for the recount after finishing fourth behind Higgins by 29 votes.
The recount, ordered by Superior Court Judge Robert Mega, was conducted Nov. 29 in Scotch Plains. Records show that the recount changed the votes by a margin of about two votes for most school board candidates, but the number of votes for McDowell remained the same.

McDowell did not respond to a request for comment by this article’s deadline. He said in a Nov. 13 statement that he was calling for the recount because he had concerns about mail-in ballots. At that time, he said he had “suspicions that those voters may have been unduly influenced by people ‘helping’ voters fill out their absentee ballots.”

McDowell ran on a three-person ticket with fellow incumbents Nufrio and Nancy Zuena. Higgins ran on the Children First Coalition ticket with Michelle Shulz and Richardson. Steven Le, campaign manager for the Children First Coalition, said in a Dec. 6 statement that the McDowell-Zuena-Nufrio group never should have cast “doubt in the democratic process.”

“After the initial count and the recount, there is no doubt of the results confirming (Higgins’) win,” Le said. “Furthermore, there is no doubt and should never have been doubt in the democratic process. Our campaign team has moved on from this election, and I hope the other side will too as a sign of good sportsmanship.

“The ball is in their court to either pointlessly and desperately re-dispute the election, or graciously move on in the interests of the community and the children.”

Union County Board of Elections Administrator Dennis Kobitz explained the change in the recount vote totals, noting some mail-in ballot voters had both filled in circles and written in names for the same candidates.

“The judges always authorize the recount,” Kobitz said, adding that all districts were recounted in Union. “There’s no reason to deny anybody to having a recount.”

It costs $2 per district, plus a $25 fee for a recount, Kobitz added.
McDowell’s faction was supported by the advocacy group Parents for Change. The group and McDowell decried campaign contributions made to the opposing Children’s First group, including a $1,000 donation from state Sen.-elect Joseph Cryan.

According to McDowell on Nov. 13, he, Nufrio and Zuena, “are all independent thinkers without any strings from outside interest attached. I believe that I cannot say the same for the two incoming board members. After all, they received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from people that are likely expecting something in return.”

Cryan’s donation in the nonpartisan election, while legal, raised ethical questions from the McDowell camp, whose opposition also raised thousands more than the Parents for Change campaign.

The school board race was highly contested.
In June, about $26,000 was stolen from a secretary’s desk in Union High School, authorities said. Nine suspects were arrested in connection with the theft, including the son of Zuena, who was charged with criminal trespass in connection with the incident.

Meanwhile, Le, on behalf of the Children First Coalition, filed a complaint in Superior Court against the school board, alleging that $5 million in excess bond funds should have gone back to taxpayers. He voluntarily withdrew that complaint and it was also reviewed in early September by an administrative law judge, who dismissed it since for having been filed too late.

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