MAYS LANDING — A final count of 115 contested provisional ballots Monday by the Atlantic County Board of Elections resulted in an unofficial victory for Democratic 2nd District Assembly candidate Vince Mazzeo over incumbent Republican John Amodeo.
After a hand count of the ballots, each of which had been challenged during the original provisional count last week, Mazzeo picked up 57 votes to Amodeo’s 22. Including other provisional, mail-in and machine ballots, the count stands at 25,164 votes for Mazzeo and 25,126 for Amodeo, a 38-vote margin.
The Atlantic County Clerk’s Office must certify the votes by 3 p.m. today, according to state law, though Amodeo can still request a recount or contest the election.
Amodeo said he would "refocus and study the numbers" before making any final decision.
“It’s been a tumultuous time for my family and myself,” said Amodeo, of Ventnor, who had been seeking his fourth term in the Assembly. “We’ll make a determination (as to) what the next step will be, if there is one.”
Mazzeo, a first-time Assembly candidate and current mayor of Northfield, shook hands with Amodeo after the final provisional numbers were announced and called him a gentleman.
“I’m glad it’s over, and I’m looking forward to doing the work of the people of District 2,” Mazzeo said. “It’s been a tough race, and I appreciate everyone involved.”
Referring to the initial count of the machine ballots on election day, when he was behind by almost 400 votes before mail-in and provisional counts narrowed the gap, Mazzeo said, “I thought it was over two weeks ago ... and another two weeks took its toll on our nerves. But I’m happy with how it ended.”
If Mazzeo takes office, Democrats would retain their 48-32 majority in the state Assembly. Democratic Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, was defeated by Republican Sam Fiocchi in the 1st District.
Amodeo’s running mate, 2nd District Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown, was re-elected to a second term, while Mazzeo’s running mate, Longport Mayor Nick Russo, finished fourth.
“Today's results makes me think of Jerry Garcia singing ‘What a long, strange trip it's been,’” Brown said in a statement. “John (Amodeo) represents the people of the 2nd District with dignity and distinction. It is an honor to serve with him. I will respect John’s decision on how he chooses to move forward from this point.
The final unofficial numbers come after two weeks of challenges and occasionally heated sparring by the two parties.
While more than 1,200 provisional ballots cast in Atlantic County were counted and approved last week, the board split 2-2 along party lines on 116 ballots — 10 in which there was a question as to whether the signatures matched the voters' signatures on file, 108 ballots on which poll workers had signed indicating they assisted the voter in filling out the provisional ballots, and two for both reasons.
A provisional ballot is given to those whose vote is challenged at the polls for any number of issues, but the only poll workers who are supposed to sign ballots are those who assist blind, illiterate or physically handicapped voters.
Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez ruled Friday that 115 of the 116 ballots should be allowed, stating, “The fundamental principle is permitting votes to be counted.”
Atlantic County Democratic Chairman James Schroeder said last week that the majority of poll worker-assistance challenges by Republican board members were in Pleasantville (56) and Atlantic City (32), and questioned why mostly minority districts were targeted.
Schroeder also said a group of Republicans gathered the weekend after the election in Atlantic City and that voters who filed provisional ballots were questioned by people identifying themselves as from the “elections board,” which he called “harassment” and “intimidation of voters.”
Republican Board of Elections member Robert Marshall made a statement before Monday’s count in which he criticized “unprofessional” behavior by “(board) commissioners and others” who accused Republicans of targeting minority districts, adding, “Making it into a race issue is unacceptable.”
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