BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ Democrat Joan Bannan Harris will take a seat on previously all-Republican Township Committee in 2019, after a count of votes by mail under the state's new mail-in system overturned a lead by two Republican candidates tallied up after polls closed last Tuesday.
The Somerset County website released its "final unofficial" vote count late on this Tuesday. The results showed that Harris, with 6,335 votes, held the second highest number of votes in the race for two open seats on the Township Committee. Republican Joseph Esposito remained the top votegetter, with 6,355 votes, and was elected to the other three-year Township Committee seat.
However, after a count of mail-in votes received by the county within 48 hours after election day, along with provisional ballots counted from the polls, Republican candidate John Surano lost his initial lead of 490 votes.
As of Nov. 13, Surano's vote count was 6,306, and Robert Mascia, the second Democratic candidate, had tallied 6,076 votes.
Harris said in an email on Tuesday night, "I am thrilled with the results and humbled by messages of support and congratulations I have received including a call I received from John Surano, who was more than gracious in extending me his best wishes."
Harris added, "I would like to congratulate Joe Esposito on his win, and also commend John Surano and Bobby Mascia on their efforts in stepping up as candidates."
Harris, who also sought election to the Township Committee as a Democratic candidate in 2017, added, "I am looking forward to working with all the members of the Township Committee and making local government open, transparent, and inclusive."
Contacted by phone, Bernards Township Republican Committee Chairman Rich Bianchi also offered his congratulations to Harris, and noted that about 3,000 votes by mail were responsible for changing the early election count. Bianchi said he believed Bill Allen had been the last Democrat to serve on the Township Committee.
In the initial vote count at the polls on Nov. 6, Surano received 5,332 votes, compared with 4,842 for Harris. That lead was whittled as the week went on, until the two candidates were separated by only nine votes as of last Friday.
Harris said she believed the campaign she ran last year with fellow Democrat Sally Booth helped pave the way for her win this year. "I am grateful for the efforts of Sally Booth and the campaign team last year as well as the efforts of the campaign team this year, all which contributed to the win this year," Harris said.
Both incoming committee members will be new faces on the Township Committee next year, after incumbents John Malay and Carolyn Gaziano decided not to seek re-election.