WEST ORANGE, NJ - Confusion and controversy continues regarding the West Orange Board of Education Election returns, as the Essex County Clerk has still not officially called the the election.
On Tuesday, November 5, the Alternative Press received the results from the Township Clerk's office, who tallies the votes from the actual slips received from the polling locations. Those numbers, along with absentee ballots, are totaled. That total, minus the provisional ballots, was posted on the town website. Mordecai handily won re-election.
Sandra Mordecai was excited about her re-election and provided this statement to the Alternative Press:
In the battle for the second open seat, however, the race was very close between the other two candidate newcomers, Mark Robertson and Phil Orphanidis:
Sandra Mordecai: 4466 votes
Mark Robertson: 3137 votes
Phil Orphanidis: 3055 votes
82 votes separated the two candidates.
The Essex County Clerk's Office posted a different set of returns on their website:
Mordecai: 4337 votes
Robertson: 3005 votes
Orphanidis: 2994 votes
It remains unclear how or when the county derived those figures. Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin accepted the township's totals as the correct totals Thursday afternoon, though their website did not appear to be updated as of Friday. The 51 write-in votes were not votes for Mordecai, Robertson, or Orphanidis.
This would place Robertson as the winner, except for the 90 Provisional Votes that still remained to be opened and were scheduled to be opened Friday, November 8, in the County Clerk's office. These votes could be for Governor, Assembly, Freeholder, the two ballot questions posed to voters, or BOE candidates. The provisional ballots are now scheduled to opened on Tuesday, November 12.
A provisional ballot is used when questions arise about the eligibility of a voter to vote. A provisional ballot is used, for example, when a voter refuses to show an ID when asked, when their address differs from what is stated, and most importantly, when their name does not appear on the voting roster.
Two seats were up for election for the Board. The incumbent, Mordecai, was re-elected, and the other seat was left open when current member Megan Brill did not run for re-election. Tuesday's election included votes for Governor, Assembly, Freeholder, and two ballot questions, one involving benefits to veterans groups through legalized games of chance, and the other to raise the minimum wage. According to several residents, they were not aware they could vote for two candidates, and only voted for one. Others voted for only one on purpose, and others did not vote at all for the Board of Education candidates.
In a phone call with Mark Robertson today, he said is waiting for the official results to come from the County Clerk's office before ultimately celebrating, conceding, or making a statement.
Phil Orphanidis, however, posted on his Candidate Facebook Page on Wednesday ( it was subsequently removed), saying:
"Last night we went up against a political machine that reaches up to the highest levels of statewide politics. We ran one of the toughest campaniles for BoE that most residents in West Orange have ever seen, and irregardless of how this mess turns out with regards to final vote totals, I'm proud of everyone who helped.
We had an entire 5 person town council campaigning against us, we had an entire 5 person Board of Ed campaign against us, a sitting Assemblyman, a sitting Assemblywoman, and a sitting Nj State Senator and we managed to run this tough campaign against a machine.
In short, we had everyone against us except the voters. I'm proud of West Orange."
In a statement this evening to the Alternative Press, Orphanidis wrote:
"I want to thank the more than 3,000 voters who voted in favor of a new direction here in West Orange and all of our volunteers who worked so hard for the last six months. With the election being so close, all I can say about the election is that we have to wait and see how the Provisional ballots come back.
I thank voters and supporters who stuck with me while my opponent was running a negative campaign against my candidacy, while sitting Council members attacked me, while individual Board of Education members attacked me, and while sitting NJ Assembly members campaigned against me. They dragged my family’s name through the mud, they brutally attacking my personal character, they brutally attacked our message and tried to discredit my qualifications.
Well I got news for those individuals; Phil Orphanidis is 27 and not going anywhere. You can attack me, but every attack on me is an added vote for this movement and a testament as to why we need change.
My message is that I believe that this town is ready for change. This town is ready to be freed from the control of special interest who are more concerned with lining their pockets with taxpayer money rather than making sure every child gets the best education possible. West Orange residents know what is going on in this town.
This town is ready for something new, something fresh, and I am ready to be that change. When I started this campaign six months ago I always knew I was an outsider. No one knew who I was, but I always knew I had the cards stacked against me in this town.
I cannot say anything more until we have the final results in on Tuesday afternoon. After those results come in on Tuesday afternoon I will know all of my options."
Until the Essex County Clerk's Office provides the information in the provisional ballots, the election results remain unofficial. The Alternative Press will continue to provide updates as they become available.
A link to the West Orange Township Clerk's Still-Unofficial vote tallies for the November 5 elections is here: