With scientist and educator Andrew Zwicker (D) up 29 votes at the polls Tuesday night, attention turns to counting provisional ballots in the 4 counties that make up the 16th Legislative District. Three of those counties – Somerset, Hunterdon, Mercer – have already counted their provisionals. Only one town remains to have its provisional ballots counted, and that will happen Monday.
But that one town? It’s the Dem-leaning South Brunswick, where at the polls Tuesday night, Zwicker was highest vote-getter and Donna Simon the lowest.
Somerset County counted its LD16 provisional ballots this morning, a net gain by Donna Simon of 7 votes, far less than I would have expected. Hunterdon and Mercer have already counted. Both showed net gains for Andrew Zwicker – up 9 votes in Hunterdon, up 28 votes in Mercer (which has only Princeton in LD16). GOP incumbent Jack Ciattarelli was easily reelected; Zwicker is likely headed to Trenton in place of GOP incumbent Donna Simon.
On Monday at 4pm, the Middlesex Board of Election commissioners will meet to hear any challenges to any of the 51 provisional ballots in the LD16 portion of Middlesex County. I am told by BOE Administrator Jim Vokral that of those 51 ballots, the BOE has already rejected 17 as invalid, leaving 34 good. Typically lawyers representing each candidate may challenge any of the rejected ballots, but there may also be challenges to ballots the BOE has listed as accepted. Vokral expects the commissioners will make a decision Monday after hearing any and all challenges, and will count the ballots then and there.
Donna Simon has not conceded yet.
The math: Zwicker e-day advantage: 29 votes + 9 (Hunterdon) + 28 (Mercer) – 7 (Simon advantage in Somerset) = 59 vote advantage for Zwicker by my count, going into Monday’s provisional ballot count for South Brunswick.
Hunterdon: This was a surprise, and does not bode well for Simon. Hunterdon is her home county, where in its deepest-red municipality of Readington, Simon has served both on the Board of Health and on Township Committee. She should have been able to count on home-field advantage. But Simon only got 10 provisional votes in Hunterdon, while Zwicker got 19. A net 9 votes here for Zwicker.
Mercer: Not a surprise. Mercer has only one town in LD16 but it’s the very Dem Princeton. And Andrew Zwicker works at Princeton University and lives in nearby Kingston, also in the county. When provisionals here were counted, Zwicker picked up 35 votes, Simon only 7. A net 28 votes here for Zwicker.
Somerset (counted today): Also a surprise, and also not looking good for Simon. I expected Simon to pick up votes in the double-digits today. But Simon nets only 7 votes here over Zwicker.
Middlesex (count expected Monday): If the provisional ballots follow the election results at the polls in South Brunswick, Zwicker will have the most. Unofficial Middlesex (South Brunswick LD16) results: Zwicker had 33% of the vote, followed by his running mate Maureen Vella (32%), Jack Ciattarelli (18%) and at the bottom, Donna Simon (17%).
Some background on Donna Simon: Simon got a seat in the Legislature in January 2012, shortly after the death of longtime Republican assemblyman Pete Biondi. In the November 2011 election, Democrats Marie Corfield and Joe Camarota came in less than 2,000 votes behind Jack Ciattarelli in his first run, with longtime 8-term incumbent Biondi garnering the most votes. However, the Republicans never disclosed that Biondi was gravely ill with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Biondi died two days after the election. But his win allowed LD16 Republican county committee members to name a replacement from their party. And Donna Simon became an Assemblywoman. Simon was challenged two more times by Corfield – the following November 2012, when Simon won by just 1%, and again in 2013 when Simon won by 5%.
Donna Simon was an early bit player in what has become one of the scandals plaguing the Christie administration though more complex and less infamous than Bridgegate (she has no culpability in Christie’s mess). Seven years ago Simon launched an unsuccessful attempt to recall Sheriff Deborah Trout, who would eventually amass 43 counts of official misconduct and other crimes in a grand jury indictment of Trout, former Undersheriff Michael Russo and former Sheriff’s Investigator John Falat Jr. All are allies of Gov. Christie. In 2010, every one of those 43 indictments was suddenly dropped and county prosecutor Bill Barlyn fired; he claims it was because he refused to drop the case against Trout and her aides. The state spent $2 million of your tax dollars unsuccessfully fighting an effort by Barlyn to access documents he says will prove his case.
On Andrew Zwicker: Zwicker has been head of the Science Education department of Princeton University’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory since 2003. Before Rush Holt became a member of Congress, he was Assistant Director at PPPL. Last year, Holt, New Jersey’s “rocket scientist” in Congress, declined to run for reelection, Zwicker ran in the Democratic primary for the seat, against Bonnie Watson Coleman, Linda Greenstein and Upendra Chivukula. By the end of the year, Watson Coleman would become NJ’s first-ever Black woman member of Congress and Holt would become head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington. Zwicker is widely seen as the intellectual successor to Holt, who speaks like Holt in terms of evidence over ideology in setting policy.
Zwicker was raised in Englewood, NJ, and now lives in Kingston. Commute time: Kingston to Trenton = 15 miles (20 minutes).