Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli finally conceded the New Jersey governor’s race today, ten days after Election Day. As a partisan of swift vote counts and concessions, I should have liked to see an earlier concession in a race that is (as of the current count) decided by over 74,000 votes — or 2.72 percent of the vote. Even Democratic state senate president Steve Sweeney, last seen claiming “12,000 ballots recently found in one county,” conceded on Wednesday. Ciattarelli said that yesterday was the first time he talked to his campaign lawyer, Mark Sheridan, and asked if there was still a path to victory, and was told no. He therefore declined to request a recount.
To Ciattarelli’s credit, he and his campaign mostly kept a dignified silence while the votes were still being counted, as the incumbent Phil Murphy’s lead grew after an election night on which Ciattarelli was ahead until the wee hours of the morning. Last week, Sheridan issued a statement saying: “Let me be clear, no one on this team is alleging fraud or malfeasance, as we have not seen any credible evidence of that.” Ciattarelli himself urged his supporters not to engage in “wild conspiracy theories or online rumors” and to “let the process play out.” It seems likely that both Ciattarelli and Sweeney would have conceded earlier if New Jersey was not, as is so common in deep-blue states such as California and New York, unconscionably slow and uneven in counting votes. In fact, by keeping his options open for a contest, Ciattarelli maintained a deterrent against Sweeney attempting to overturn his own loss.
In his concession speech, Ciattarelli went out of his way to reassure his supporters that he lost fair and square, and that he would have fought on if there were any reason to doubt the integrity of the outcome:
To those who are disappointed that I’m conceding; to those whose faith in our election system has shaken; to those who are angry that I’m not asking for a recount today, let me say this. I’ve worked every day and night for 22 months to become New Jersey’s governor. If you think I’d be standing here today and conceding if I thought I won this election, you couldn’t be more wrong. I hate to lose . . .
But I’m also someone who believes strongly in our Republic, and our democratic processes. Enough votes have been counted. There does not appear to be a path to victory or the basis for a recount. Nor do we know of any systemic or widespread fraud. So no, I see no proof that this election was stolen. As my campaign said in a press release earlier this week, the new law the governor rushed to enact led to this disjointed and excruciating slow vote counting process.
Sadly, in our current climate, that slow count and constantly changing online numbers, gives rise to doubt in the system, and unfounded conspiracy theories. That isn’t healthy. The fact that we are 10 days past election, and votes are still being counted, is a problem for every close election to come. Voters do deserve better. I proposed to the legislature in partnership with the County Clerk’s Association and the election board officials association: standardize election reporting. We desperately need uniformity and strict reporting guidelines. Doing so would bring order to, and most importantly renew faith in, our system.
Good for him. The unqualified acceptance of defeat is an important republican virtue. Faster, more uniform counting of the votes is a worthy cause, one that also promotes faith in the system. A stable system that delivers legitimate results and is not constantly being revised on the fly is our best defense against conspiracy theories and political violence.
Ciattarelli also said that he intends to run for governor again in 2025. New Jersey could use some sanity in state government; it will have to wait.