New Jersey polls close as Murphy, Ciattarelli await election results for governor’s race

New Jersey polls close as Murphy, Ciattarelli await election results for governor’s race
NEW JERSEY — New Jersey voters had their say Tuesday on whether Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy will win a second term after enacting much of his progressive agenda or if they will chart a new direction with Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli.

Polls have closed in New Jersey, despite a push by the ACLU to file a lawsuit in Mercer County on Tuesday, seeking to keep polls open until 9:30 p.m. after reports of problems with electronic voting statewide.

However, a judge denied the request to keep polls open an extra 90 minutes. The judge was told there were 45-minute lines at several polling locations, but anyone currently on line could not be turned away. The judge said extending would create chaos at this late hour.


Before polls opened Tuesday, already some 700,000 votes – about a third of the total in 2017 – had been cast by mail-in ballots or in early in-person voting.

Governor Murphy has been leading in the polls, has a 1 million-voter registration advantage and had more cash in his campaign coffers than Ciattarelli in the final days of the race. But the Republican has far surpassed his predecessor four years ago in fundraising and has seen the gap in public polls move in his favor – if only by a few points.

At the Washington Township Senior Center, Joseph Buono wore his red Make America Great Again hat to vote. He voted for Ciattarelli for governor largely because of his promise to address property taxes in a state where the average bill is more than $9,000 – and because he doesn’t want incumbent Murphy to remain in charge of the state’s pandemic response.

“The fear is he’s going to mandate everything if he does win,” said Buono, a 31-year-old accountant. His wife, Nadia Buono, 37, who works in finance, said she doesn’t want their two young children to be required to be vaccinated when they turn five.

Washington Township is the biggest town in Gloucester County, home to middle-class suburbs of Philadelphia. The county, generally more conservative than the state, has been a bellwether, voting for the winner in the last five gubernatorial elections.

Outside the bustling senior center, home to voting for several precincts, Murphy voters said they approve of the governor’s handling of the pandemic.

“I think he did an excellent job with COVID,” said Julie Steinman, 60, a second-grade teacher in a nearby community. Steinman said she’s an unaffiliated voter but usually supports Democrats running for governor, largely because they’re friendlier to teachers and their unions.

While a Ciattarelli win would send a jolt of surprise through state and national politics, a win by Murphy would also break some historical trends.

No Democrat has won reelection as governor in New Jersey since Brendan Byrne in 1977, and the party opposite the president’s has won the New Jersey governorship going back to 1985.

Murphy has campaigned as a solid progressive, with a record to show for it. He signed bills into law that expanded voting access, provided for taxpayer-funded pre-K and community college, hiked the minimum wage to $15 an hour over time along with opening up the state to renewable energy like wind power.

Also on his watch and with his support, New Jersey legalized recreational marijuana, increased K-12 education funding and began fully financing the state’s share of the public pension. He paid for some of the new state spending with higher taxes on incomes over $1 million.

In the closing days of the campaign, to hammer the point home, he appeared alongside U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders at Rutgers University at a rally. He cast the election as critical for holding on to progressive gains made during his first term.

Ciattarelli’s campaign seized on comments Murphy made that New Jersey probably isn’t for voters whose top issue is taxes, casting the governor as out of touch with a concern many prioritize.

He also sought support from those who disagreed with Murphy’s handling of COVID-19. At a recent campaign rally in Hazlet when someone in the audience asked about mandates, Ciattarelli said there’d be none under his administration – an allusion to mask and vaccination mandates.

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He also implicitly criticized critical race theory in schools, saying that “we are not going to teach our children to feel guilty.” Critical race theory is a method of thinking of America’s history through the lens of racism that has become a political lightning rod of the Republican Party.

Polls showed Murphy got solid support for his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, which hit New Jersey hard in early 2020 and resulted in the deaths of more than 25,000 people. About a third of those deaths occurred in nursing and veterans homes. But the state also excelled at getting people vaccinated and was quick to become one of the states with the highest percentages of eligible people to be fully vaccinated.

Also on the ballot Tuesday are all 40 seats in the state Senate and all 80 seats in the Assembly. Democrats control both chambers.

Voters are also being asked two questions this year. One asks whether to allow betting on New Jersey college teams or teams from other states whose games are played in New Jersey.

A separate question asks whether organizations that are permitted to hold raffles should be able to keep the money to support themselves.

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