By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
hochman@montclairlocal.news

A candidate who sought the Republican nomination for Essex County sheriff has filed a civil action against several election officials and Dominion Voting Systems, saying her vote and at least two others were never counted.

Maureen Edelson, a Montclair resident, lost the primary race for the Republican nomination to Nicholas G. Pansini by a margin of almost 4-1, according to unofficial results posted to an elections site run by the Essex County Clerk. Pansini got 6,049 votes to Edelson's 1,498, according to the tally. The 7,547 votes cast in that race overall were dwarfed by the equivalent Democratic contest, where 36,750 ballots were recorded — with incumbent Sheriff Armando Fontoura taking more than three-quarters of the vote.

But Edelson says in her lawsuit the count is at least a few votes short. She notes the county site reflected no Republican votes cast in Montclair's Ward 3, District 4 for the sheriff's race. That remained true as of June 24, two days after her filing. It also showed no votes in the district for the Republican primary for governor, which Jack Ciattarelli ultimately won, or for a Republican State Committee race. The elections site showed June 24 that votes for the district are "completely reported," along with all others in the county.

It's not uncommon for vote totals in local Republican primaries to be low — according to the county site, several other Montclair districts showed just single-district turnouts of GOP voters — and that's typical of past elections in Montclair, known as a Democratic stronghold despite its own nonpartisan form of municipal government. But Edelson says at minimum, she, her husband and neighbor Adriana Smyth voted in those races. Her filing includes certifications from all three attesting to that fact.

Smyth also says in her certification she was directed to vote with a Sharpie, but "found that odd and remembered reports from the November presidential election where Republicans were given sharpies to vote and the machine did not receive their votes," but instead voted with a pen, and the machine said it read her vote. Fact checks by the Associated Press, Reuters and USA Today rated the claim that voting machines would reject ballots marked with Sharpies as false.

Several key dates in the election process have passed in the last few days, or are about to. June 20 was the deadline to file an election contest petition for the primary. June 21 was the deadline for a municipal clerk to certify the names of elected county committee members.

And on June 22, clerks were to canvass votes — a final tally. That's the same day the courts system registers Edelson's case as being initiated, though the text of the complaint marks it a day earlier. Applications to recount votes or recheck voting machines are due June 25.

Edelson said by phone on Thursday, June 24 that she'd been in touch with the Essex County Clerk's office about her vote, and that though it took multiple requests, she was able to get a readout of results that showed the same thing as the elections site — no Republican votes in her district.

"That confirmed what was on the website — that the lack of Republican votes was 3-4 in Montclair was not any sort of error [particular to the site]," she said. The tabulation, included as an exhibit in Edelson's filing, appears to have been sent from a Dominion employee to an employee of the Essex County Clerk's Office, who in turn provided it to Edelson by email.

Edelson also says in her filing that while at the county clerk's office on June 14, she saw "a woman present herself to the county clerk’s office bearing a red bag marked 'Montclair 3-4.'" Her filing includes a photo of the bag as an exhibit.

Edelson said she's called the Board of Elections to ask what happened to her vote, and left a message but hasn't heard back. She said she didn't want to speculate on why her vote didn't show in the counts.

"The range of possibilities is so vast and so broad," she said. "But there is plenty of information and literature and court cases about the unreliability of electronic voting systems."

She didn't reference specific cases, but mentioned search results should come up for a Rutgers study on the matter. In 2020, New Jersey abandoned plans for an Internet-based voting system after a court challenge by Rutgers Law School Professor Penny Venetis and students saying the systems weren't secure. A study from the University of Michigan last year found that if votes cast electronically were manipulated before a paper readout was shown to a voter, the voter was unlikely to notice the disparity.

Last year's presidential election saw viral spread of claims of hacked or otherwise manipulated machines on social media, as well as assertions by then President Donald Trump that "elections systems across the country are found to have deleted millions of votes cast" for him. A BBC fact-check, among several others, debunked that claim, finding no evidence for it. The BBC piece notes an issue in Antrim County, Michigan, where an initial count appeared to show now-President Joe Biden up by 3,000 votes in a typically Republican area. Michigan's secretary of state said that was indeed an error, but a human one using tabulation software that was caught and corrected — calling it an "honest mistake and did not affect any actual vote totals."

Companies Dominion and Smartmatic have filed a series of defamation lawsuits against individuals and companies including Fox News and Trump's former personal lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, for advancing claims the companies' machines flipped or otherwise manipulated votes.

Edelson's filing names Essex County Clerk Christopher Durkin, county Superintendent of Elections Patty Spango, Dominion and multiple members of the county Board of Elections. Calls to the county clerk's and board office Thursday went to a voicemail system that said it could not accept new messages. Emails to those offices sent late Thursday afternoon have not yet been resulted in responses.

An earlier version of this post misattributed a statement by Adriana Smyth in her certification, regarding being told to vote with a Sharpie.