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Recount In Jersey? Candidates, Parties Planning For One

With recent polling showing that the top two candidates in New Jersey's gubernatorial race are separated by just a few points, it's no surprise that the campaigns and parties are preparing for the possibility of a recount should the final result be too close to call.

"We certainly have anticipated and prepared for this scenario," said Maria Comella, spokesperson for Republican Chris Christie. Spokesperson Lis Smith said officials in Gov. Jon Corzine's campaign are also "preparing" for a possible recount; both declined to comment further on the nature of those preparations, however.

Robert Giles, director of the New Jersey Division of Elections, said that there is no automatic trigger which would require a recount after Tuesday's vote. Either candidate has 15 days to request that county officials double-check their tallies, and can do so no matter what the margin of victory. Such a request would be made in state Superior Court.

"It's definitely a possibility," Giles said, noting that in 1993 and 1997, the gubernatorial races were decided by fewer than 25,000 votes. The 1981 race was even closer, as Republican Tom Kean was victorious by just an 1,800-vote margin. That was the last time a candidate requested a recount take place (then-Rep. Jim Florio).

Officials from both the Republican and Democratic Governors Association say they would be prepared to help their candidates with a recount, but neither said they expect a recount to be called. RGA spokesperson Mike Schrimpf said he would expect Corzine to seek a recount if the result is with 2 percent, but posited that the final result would not be that close.

In a recount, each of the Garden State's 21 counties would then re-run the votes from so-called DRE (direct-recording electronic) voting machines, comparing the internal memory to the totals reported on Election Night. Mail-in ballots and provisional ballots would also have to be recounted, either by rescanning them or via a hand-count, based on a candidate's request. There is a fee for the petitioning candidate, but all costs are incurred by the counties.

Once the counties report the results of the recount, the petitioning candidate can either accept the result, or file to contest the election. That request would have to be filed within 30 days of the election, and would have to include specific allegations as to whether there were illegal ballots cast, legal voters turned away, etc.

"The campaign attorneys are well versed" in what a contest would require, Giles said. The New Jersey Board of Canvassers is scheduled to meet December 1 to certify the result of the election, barring any court challenge.

Tuesday's election is the first gubernatorial race in New Jersey that allows voters to cast their ballot by mail without requiring a specific reason. In 2005, 91,000 absentee ballots were cast; this year, 184,000 requests were received, with a return rate typically as high as 90 percent. Giles estimates that overall turnout tomorrow could be in the mid-50 percent range, which "would be average turnout for a gubernatorial election." Turnout was lower in both 2001 and 2005.

Democrats are optimistic that while polls show Corzine either narrowly behind or ahead, their proven get-out-the-vote effort would put the incumbent over the top. President Obama's visit to New Jersey Sunday was intended to help in that effort. Today, the AFL-CIO reports that they'll have 12,000-15,000 volunteers working in the state tomorrow, with 500 volunteers calling 180,000 union households in the state. AFL-CIO President Trumka will join Corzine and other union officials for a GOTV bus tour.