FREEHOLD – A squat drab building on the side of a highway could describe a lot of places in New Jersey, but this one warrants a double take because a state trooper stands out front, and operativescome and go, frantically talking on their cellphones in the rain.
It’s two days after Election Day, but there remains a political war going on in Monmouth and here at the Clerk’s Office on Halls-Mill Road represents ground zero.
In a fight to secure a second seat on the Freeholder Board, Democratic candidate Amy Mallet leads Republican candidate John Curley by 18 votes, 135,688 to 135,670 as representatives from both parties jockey in the background for position in case a legal challenge goes down.
“The numbers on our website are absolutely accurate,” says Clerk Claire French. “Since the night of the election the only difference is the provisional ballot totals.”
There are several rooms where workers were counting those provisionals this morning, when Democrats called the Superintendent of Elections and ordered a cessation until the state Attorney General’s Office could install someone to monitor the process.
Now they’re waiting for that state representative to arrive before they continue counting.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” says French. “They don’t recognize party or logic or preference. Some will be disappointed. The process could take as long as two weeks.”
Republican County Chairman Joe Oxley waits along with everyone else.
“We’ll crunch the numbers,” says Oxley, “but at this point, we’re looking at an (18) vote separation. Every single vote is important.”
The county chair is tense about control of the freeholder board. If Mallet wins, the Democrats gain control here.
After party picked up one seat per year on the board for the past two years, State Party Chairman Joseph Cryan wants Monmouth badly and is at the verge of savoring victory with Mallet leading at present.
Whatever happens in that county race, Oxley wants it understood that he’s otherwise happy with the results countywide.
“We picked up seats in Eatontown and Wall, we performed well in Middletown, McCain won and so did Zimmer,” says the county chairman. “Statewide, there was a tsunami that came for Barack, but we held our own here.”
The question on a lot of people’s minds with the process still playing out is why Mallet outperformed her running mate, Hazlet detective Glenn Mason, by seven and half percent.
Mallet received 135,688 votes, and Mason netted 127,699.
“A woman on the ballot is worth a couple of points,” says Pat Politano, spokesman for Mallet. “It also could be that she performed better in that Assembly district where she ran last year.”
Mallet was unsuccessful in her 12th Legislative District run in 2007, losing on a ticket for the Assembly with her running mate, incumbent Michael Panter, to Republicans Declan O’Scanlon and Caroline Casagrande. Politano concurs that she might have received a boost from having already run in big, important towns like Marlboro and Manalapan, which first-timer Mason didn’t possess.
In Marlboro, for example, Mallet scored 9,600 votes to Mason's 9,000 votes.
"She was here campaigning for me last year," says Marlboro Mayor Jon Hornik, who did a robocall for Mallet-Mason. "People remember when they see you active and engaged."
Another factor is Mallet submitted 1,300 more absentee ballots than Mason.