With New Jersey governor election results too close to call, here's how recounts work in the Garden State

New Jersey governor’s election was supposed to be a blowout: ‘No one expected this’

Senior correspondent Eric Shawn reports the latest on New Jersey governor’s election between Democratic incumbent Phil Murphy and Republican Jack Ciattarelli as Fox News’ election day coverage continues

The New Jersey governor’s race remained too close to call early Wednesday morning as Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli held a narrow lead over incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, meaning that no matter who ends up in front once all votes are counted, the other side will want to challenge the outcome.

So how do recounts work in New Jersey? While some states have automatic recounts that are triggered by slim margins between candidates, the Garden State does not – it does, however, allow candidates to challenge results on a county-by-county basis.

“When any candidate at any election shall have reason to believe that an error has been made in counting the votes of that election, the candidate may, within a period of 17 days following such election, apply to a judge of the Superior Court assigned to the county wherein such district or districts are located, for a recount of the votes cast at the election in any district or districts,” New Jersey law says. 

Jack Ciattarelli, Republican candidate for governor of New Jersey, speaks during an election night event in Bridgewater Township, New Jersey, onn Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. Ciattarelli is locked in a tight race with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who is bidding for a second term. (Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

How does it work?

The recount itself would be conducted by a county board under the judge’s direction. The county board has the power to subpoena district board members to provide any necessary documents or other materials, and to be present for the opening of the ballot boxes. The county board can also have the district board members testify, if needed. Should there be any disputes, the county board can vote on them, but if the issue cannot be settled with a majority vote, the judge overseeing the recount would decide the matter.

Who pays for it?

Should a judge grant an application for a recount, the candidate has to pay a deposit for each district being recounted. The deposit amounts are based on the number of votes, but capped at $25 per district. 

Should the recount result in a different outcome, or if it results in a change of at least 10 votes or 10% of the votes cast (whichever is greater), the government will pay the costs and the deposits will be refunded. Otherwise, the recount costs will be deducted from the deposits.


Phil Murphy, governor of New Jersey, exits after speaking during an election night event in Asbury Park, New Jersey,  on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. (Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

What happens if there is a different outcome?

If the election has already been certified before the recount, and the recount shows that there is a new winner or a tie, the judge will issue an order revoking the certification. In the event of a new winner, the judge would hand down another order for the chairman and clerk of the county board of canvassers to issue a new certification.

If this happens, however, recounts were only done in particular counties, the candidate who held the lead after the initial vote can request recounts in every district. If the original winner then gains enough votes to retake the lead, the recount process will stop unless the original challenger pays another deposit.

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