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Pleasantville voters approve gunfire detection system ShotSpotter

PLEASANTVILLE — Police Chief Sean Riggin said he was already talking about how to implement a $195,000-per-year gunshot-audio detection system an hour after the polls closed Tuesday night.

“We have a ton of friends in the community, which is why we got the support we did,” Riggin said Wednesday.

The unofficial vote showed 1,566, or more than 70 percent, of residents voted yes on a ballot question for the city to spend $195,000 per year for the next three years to purchase the ShotSpotter system, according to the Atlantic County Clerk’s Office website.

For homeowners, that means an increase of about 2.5 cents on the municipal property-tax rate. Residents with a home assessed at $100,000 would pay about $25 more per year.

In 2016, city police received 109 shots-fired calls, Riggin said, and the number has continued to decrease, with 80 in 2017 and 38 so far this year. However, the number of recorded gunshots fired in the city is likely to increase with the system in place, he said, because ShotSpotter will report all of them, even ones residents don’t call in to police.

When a shot is fired, acoustic sensors placed throughout a city will capture the precise time, location and audio snippets of the sound, according to the ShotSpotter website. Within 45 seconds of the gun’s discharge, police will receive a digital alert.

City Council approved the ballot question in July after years of not being picked for federal or other grants to fund it. It will be the eighth municipality in the state with the technology, joining neighboring Atlantic City, which went live with its system in 2013. Pleasantville is the first municipality in the country to put the technology before a referendum, Mayor Jesse Tweedle Sr. said.

“It gives you an idea of what our vision is, how proactive we are, how creative we are,” he said. “I’m very proud of our police department, and I’m very proud of the residents of Pleasantville. It’s indicative of how we work with our residents and the way we work with the community.”

But not everyone in the community is excited about the outcome of the vote.

Randy Millman, who has owned his Main Street store, Randy’s Jewelers, for 23 years, said taxes in the city are already “astronomical.” This is just a another thing to add on, he said, adding he’s surprised the vote passed. But he also called the system a good, intelligent idea.

“If it can reduce crime, that’s wonderful,” Millman said, balancing the scales with his hands between cost and safety. “If it saves one person, it’s worth it.”

Once it’s up and running, more than 90 percent of the city will be 90 percent covered by the system, Riggin said, adding the location of the sensors will be confidential. But the locations of all of the shooting homicides in the past 10 years will be inside the covered area, he said.

Riggin said he plans to have a timeline to the governing body within 30 days, and the system up and running in 180 days.

“I expect we’ll be up and running well before that, but I’m not going to put a deadline on that 12 hours after an election,” he said.

South Jersey saw overwhelming turnout for 2018 midterms

Although his name was not on the ballot, President Donald Trump helped drive increased voter turnout in South Jersey for the 2018 midterm election.

In Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties, Election Day turnout increased by at least 5 percent and, in some cases, went up by double digits compared to the 2014 midterms.

In the 2nd Congressional District, which includes all of Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties as well as portions of Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Ocean and Salem counties, the number of voters who showed up to the polls increased by nearly 10 percent compared to four years ago.

John Froonjian, senior researcher at the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University, said several factors could have contributed to an increase in voter turnout, but without exit polling they were difficult to identify.

However, Froonjian said, the most obvious was the electorate’s feelings about the occupant of the White House.

“Midterm elections are almost always a report card on the president,” he said. “This year’s turnout was almost all related to Donald Trump and opposition to him and a GOP majority or support of the president and his policies.”

“Every vote matters,” Tom Smith, 67, of Galloway, said Tuesday. “I’ve seen elections that were decided by 10 votes. Every vote matters.”

Voter turnout in Atlantic County was 45 percent this year compared with 38 percent in 2014. In Cape May County, turnout increased from 46 percent four years ago to 58 percent, while the 12 percentage-point increase was similar in Cumberland County, where 45 percent of registered voters went to the polls.

GALLERY: Congressman-Elect Jeff Van Drew Wins

Ocean County had the largest increases in South Jersey in both the number of actual voters (80,163) who went to the polls this year and percentage of registered voters (17 percentage points) compared to 2014.

Sarah Azegzan accompanied her mother, Bouchra Lkniksi, both of Egg Harbor Township, to the polls Tuesday morning. At 17 years old, Azegzan isn’t eligible to vote yet, but she’s looking forward to it.

“A few years ago, there weren’t as many young people who voted,” she said. “I’m going to come out and vote like a proud woman, and get that sticker.”

Voters in South Jersey ultimately contributed to the so-called “Blue Wave” that allowed Democrats to take control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 2011. Three congressional districts in New Jersey — the 2nd, 7th and 11th — flipped from Republican-held seats to Democrats.

At least 10 of New Jersey’s 12 congressional districts will be represented by Democrats beginning in January. Democrat Andy Kim declared victory in the 3rd District Wednesday night, but incumbent Tom MacArthur did not concede.

Voter turnout in the 2nd District — where Democrat Jeff Van Drew defeated Republican Seth Grossman — increased from 38 percent four years ago to 47 percent in 2018.

Froonjian said the tighter-than-predicted result of the congressional race was due to increased voter turnout in areas more favorable to Republicans.

“It appears there was strong Republican turnout on Election Day that made the 2nd Congressional District race closer than expected,” said Froonjian. “Turnout based on votes cast in the congressional election was high in Republican-leaning counties such as Cape May and Ocean and areas where Grossman performed well, including Salem and Gloucester.”

Meanwhile, he said, in counties where Van Drew won big, turnout was significantly lower, such as Atlantic and Cumberland.

“Higher turnout in those counties would have likely run up Van Drew’s victory margin,” Froonjian concluded.

Voting figures for 2018 are unofficial until certified by the Board of Elections.

Kim claims victory in 3rd District race; MacArthur doesn't concede

MOUNT LAUREL — A day after an election night standoff, Democrat Andy Kim claimed victory to a seat held by U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur after thousands of mail ballots tallied by Burlington County election officials gave him the lead in New Jersey's hotly contested 3rd District congressional race.

"With the vast majority of votes now in and counted and based on the numbers we saw from Burlington County today, we have built a substantial lead," he told supporters crowded into his headquarters in an office park in Mount Laurel Wednesday night. "I am proud to announce that we have won this hard-fought race."

MacArthur, however, did not concede, issuing a statement saying, "This has been a hard fought campaign and like Andy Kim, I'm ready to see it come to an end." He said he would await the final count, including 7,000 votes he said were still outstanding.

The additional votes counted Wednesday from Burlington, the Democratic half of a district that also includes the Republican-leaning Ocean County, gave Kim a 2,600 vote lead out of about 295,00 votes tallied in the district.

The new vote total allowed Kim to overtake the 2,300 vote lead McArthur took away on Election Night, when the two-term Republican congressman left his Toms River headquarters without addressing supporters gathered there, and both campaigns called the race too close to call.

Kim, for his part, took the stage shortly after 12:30 a.m. Wednesday at his Mount Laurel hotel gathering and told supporters, "We can win this thing."

Even before the remaining mail ballots were added to the results, officials at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said they were confident that the final results would lift Kim over MacArthur, who encountered a surge of suburban activism and an electorate's deep anxiety over health care in his quest for a third term.

The race featured months of negative advertising in two media markets, and millions spent by SuperPACs.

MacArthur, 58, a former insurance executive, was the only New Jersey congressman to vote in favor of the tax bill that capped deductions on state and local taxes, and helped craft an amendment that rescued the ultimately failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Though he stressed his bipartisan credentials, he was the New Jersey Congressman most closely aligned with President Trump's agenda.

Kim, 36, worked as a national security advisor for the Obama administration, and moved back to the Marlton area, where he was raised, to run for office.

New totals showed Kim with 101,903 votes in Burlington County, an increase of 14,487 votes over previous totals.

MacArthur's totals also increased, but by 9,550, to 69,090 in Burlington County.

Burlington County Clerk Tim Tyler, who has held the elective office for 10 years, said Kim's 32,000 vote margin in the county -- mirroring MacArthur's advantage in Ocean County -- was significant. Though several thousand provisional votes still remained to be examined and then counted if found legitimate, Tyler said he would expect them to mirror the overall margin.

He also said the fact that poll workers failed to turn in all of the voting cartridges in five districts on Election Night should have little impact on the total tallies. Based on past experience, he said, some of the cartridges may be blank if some of the voting machines in a district were not used. Cartridges were not turned in by districts in Riverside, Mansfield, Pemberton, Evesham and Chesterfield.

Joseph Dugan, the chairman of the Burlington County Board of Elections, said the county received 26,000 mail-in ballots this year, maybe twice as many as last year and more than in 2016, a presidential election year. He said poll workers counted 20,000 of them on Election Day, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and resumed counting the remaining 6,000 on Wednesday.

Election workers on Wednesday were busy removing them from envelopes and putting them in piles behind closed doors in a three-story county office building across from the courthouse. Dugan said their next chore would be to break the plastic seal on the canvas bags that contained the paper provisional ballots delivered by each voting district after polls closed. Next, they would turn them over to the superintendent of elections, on the second floor, so that he could match them up with voting registration records and see if the ballots are valid, Dugan said.

On Wednesday afternoon, lawyers and party officials milled around and waited for the tallies to be announced.

An official winner might not be declared for days, as officials in both Burlington and Ocean counties also have to process provisional ballots, which are given to voters who show up at polls despite having received a mail ballot, among other reasons. There were several thousand of those outstanding between the two counties.

In Ocean County, vote by mail ballots were included in the Tuesday night totals, county officials said.

The race broke the way pollsters had predicted: an essential standoff between the two halves of the district: Ocean County to the east, with its many retirees and solid Republican base, and Burlington County across the river from Philadelphia, where Democratic registration had increased significantly in the last two decades, said Benjamin Dworkin, a political science professor at Rowan University.

The surge in Democratic voting in Burlington County on Tuesday was enough for voters to take over long-held Republican county offices, including the clerk and the Board of Chosen Freeholders. Places like Willingboro, where voting is typically light in midterms, saw heavier turnout and even waits at some polling places.

In addition, newly organized progressive groups like Action Together New Jersey, and its Burlington and Ocean county spinoffs, spearheaded extensive vote by mail operations in the last year.

Uyen Khuong, who founded the Action Together group after the 2016 election, said Wednesday the group's thousands of volunteers used a database (and their own stamps) to target nearly 300,000 voters state-wide in 16 week. This "post-it posse" sent out applications for vote by mail ballots, along with a post-it note urging voters to consider voting by mail, which New Jersey allows for any reason.

In the Third Congressional District, Khuong said, 82,000 applications were sent out.

She said she alerted state and county officials ahead of time to print out extra ballots, telling them, "I'm going to do a huge push to change the voting habits of New Jersey voters."

The number of vote by mail ballots also increased significantly this year because of a new law that required all voters who had voted by mail in 2016 to receive a mail ballot for this election.

Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore blamed the law, and Gov. Murphy, for creating confusion and requiring voters to use provisional ballots when they arrived at the polls and were told they were a "vote by mail" voter. There were several thousand of those provisional ballots in each County, according to county officials.

Democrats picked up three other Republican-held house seats in New Jersey Tuesday night: State Sen. Jeff Van Drew won in New Jersey's second district; Navy pilot and former federal prosecutor Mikie Sherrill won in the 11th, and in the 7th district, Tom Malinowski unseated incumbent Rep. Leonard Lance.

As mail-ins tallied, Atlantic County Republican freeholder worried over losing seat

MAYS LANDING — One lone worker carefully scanned a stack of mail-in ballots at the Atlantic County Board of Elections building Wednesday before grabbing another handful.

Inside the building is where the fate of Republican incumbent Frank Formica’s freeholder seat will be decided as a dozen workers review and process a barrage of mail-in votes waiting to be counted.

Despite having a comfortable lead at the polls, Formica is worried about losing the seat he has held since 2012 to South Jersey businesswoman Celeste Fernandez.

Both campaigns think mail-in ballots could push Fernandez over the edge to victory.

An unofficial tally Wednesday morning had Formica, owner of Formicas Bros. Bakery in Atlantic City, with 52 percent of the vote and Fernandez with 47 percent. He led by 3,600 votes.

As results rolled in Tuesday night, Formica said he heard rumors that former Atlantic City Democratic Councilman Craig Callaway had orchestrated about 3,000 or 4,000 votes against him through mail-in ballots, calling it a “weapon of political mass destruction.”

“I can look anyone in the eye and say I’m proud to be an Atlantic County Republican,” Formica told a crowd watching results roll in at Linwood Country Club. “(But) there’s a phenomenon going on, and it may not turn out so well (for Republicans).”

Callaway has previously organized messenger and mail-in ballot efforts in the city. Former Republican Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian blamed Callaway in November 2017 for his failed re-election campaign, claiming Callaway paid for messengers to obtain ballots that were then filled out for Democrats.

Callaway, reached by phone Tuesday night, did not confirm or deny he told Formica about thousands of mail-in votes but said he was confident Democrats would succeed.

“Wait till the numbers come out,” Callaway said. “I think that (Formica) is going to lose. This is a great day for the Democratic Party.”

At the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City, Fernandez was confident and upbeat when she took the stage before U.S. Rep.-elect Jeff Van Drew gave his victory speech.

Atlantic County saw a spike in mail-in ballots issued in this election. About 11,000 votes have been received so far, said Board of Elections Clerk Susan Sandman. That’s almost double the 5,722 votes cast by mail in the 2014 midterm election.

Democratic freeholder candidates Maureen Leidy and Barbara Butterhof-Rheault were unable to unseat Republicans Maureen Kern and James Bertino, respectively. Butterhof-Rheault, running for the District 5 seat, had 41 percent of the vote against Bertino. Leidy captured 42 percent of the vote against Kern in District 2.

The Democrats tried to build off successes last year when they picked up two seats on the board, ousting Republicans Tony DiPietro and John Carman.

By the end of the week, voters should know whether Formica’s seat is safe, said Evelynn Caterson, commissioner of the county Board of Elections.

Since early Tuesday morning, 12 election workers have spent hours manually removing identification strips from ballots and opening them. Each pile of ballots is then run through a machine to count the selected candidates.

But this year, the process is different thanks to a new New Jersey law that allows votes to be counted if received 48 hours after polls close. Election workers don’t know what to expect.

“We’ve never had mail-in ballots come in the days after the election, so this is all new,” Caterson said. “We have no idea how many will come in. We literally don’t know.”

Edward Lea / Staff Photographer/  

Republican Freeholders Maureen Kern and Frank Formica likely both won re-election Tuesday.