Brian Dougherty is elected to Atlantic Highlands Council
Brian Dougherty is elected to Atlantic Highlands Council

Every vote does indeed count. In the Atlantic Highlands Borough Council race, the contest resulted in a razor close vote count. On election night, no one could predict the winners.

At the close of voting on November 2nd, the machine results showed incumbent Council President James Murphy a clear winner for one of the two council seats but the other winner was anyone’s guess. The remaining seat would go to either Murphy’s running mate, Republican Ellen O’Dwyer-Woods, who garnered 910 votes that night, or Democrat Brian Dougherty, who pulled 887 votes on election night.

Election night results did not include the sizable number of mail-in votes that were cast in the county. There has been an increase in participation of mail-in voting due, in part, to the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to the new vote-by-mail law, the mail-in ballot count continues after Election Day. The new law allows mail-in ballots to be received by the Board of Elections up to 6 days after close of the polls, provided the ballot is post-marked on Election Day.

By Friday, November 5, with only early mail-in ballots included, Dougherty was leading by one vote. (914-913).

Also not included election night were the provisional ballots. Those are paper ballots that are filled out at the polling place if, for example, the voter is registered in the county but moved to a new address in the county or if the registration book indicts the voter earlier requested a mail-in ballot. The provisional ballots were validated and added to the count later. They typically make up a small fraction of the total votes in a district so they do not generally affect the outcome.


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The Board Of Elections began counting provisional ballots on Friday, November 12th. Canvassing of results took place on Monday, November 15th at 11:00 a.m. The canvass accounts for every ballot cast on Election Day, every on-time mail-in ballot, every accepted provisional ballot, and every on-time overseas and military absentee ballot.

The County Clerk, on November 20th, certified the election results with the NJ Secretary of State. With all ballots counted, Brian Dougherty was the winner of the second council seat by a margin of 6 votes. The final vote count was 945 -939.

Cassandra Achille, Assistant Supervisor for Elections at the Office of the Monmouth County Clerk – Elections Division said in an email, “As per the recount, there were no changes in the number of votes each candidate received. As such the results on our website (see link) are the final voting results.”

The O’Dwyer-Woods campaign made an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request earlier for data underlying the canvass. Ellen O’Dwyer-Woods said they are reviewing the data over the next couple days. She said today, “I’m accepting of the results if the data backs it up.”

Brian Dougherty, 46, a newcomer to politics, will be sworn in at Atlantic Highlands Borough Hall at noon on January 1st for a 3-year term of office as a Borough Councilman. Council President James Murphy will be sworn in for his 2nd term as Borough Councilman at that time.

In an email to the Herald, Dougherty said, “It’s often said that ‘every vote counts.’ That phrase has never been truer than in this recent election. I’m honored and humbled for the opportunity to serve on the Atlantic Highlands Council.” He concluded, “My message to the residents of Atlantic Highlands is simple: Whether you voted for me or not, I pledge to work on your behalf in service to this town we all love. Thank you for entrusting me with the responsibility of representing you. I’m ready to get to work.”

[updated 12/21/21 10:38 am to include statement from Elections Division]

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Allan Dean

Allan Dean is editor, publisher, and founder of the Atlantic Highlands Herald. Published since 1999 and selected in 2000 by the Borough of Atlantic Highlands as one of their official newspapers, making...