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Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Middlesex awaiting judge’s ruling on challenge to Pinkin cancellation of ballot drawing

Decision due on Tuesday

By David Wildstein, April 18 2022 3:17 pm

Update: Toto will hold a hearing on Wednesday morning to determine whether GOP congressional candidate Rik Mehta can intervene in a lawsuit filed by Piscataway Democrats against Middlesex County Clerk Nancy Pinkin.

Superior Court Judge Michael Toto will decide by tomorrow whether he will order Middlesex County Clerk Nancy Pinkin to hold a ballot drawing for the June 7 primary election.

Yael Bromberg, an attorney representing three Piscataway council candidates and two county commissioner candidates running off-the-line argued that Pinkin “flat out” violated state law by automatically assigning the top ballot position to the candidates backed by the Middlesex County Democratic organization.

“We’re not even asking her to conduct a new ballot draw,” said Bromberg.  “We’re just asking her to do the original ballot draw that she’s supposed to do, in the way that everyone understands across the state of New Jersey it should be done.”

Pinkin claims that only the county Democratic organization qualified for the preferential ballot slot because the rival slate only had two county commissioner candidates for three seats, and no candidate for sheriff.

Niki Athanasopoulos, the deputy county counsel representing Pinkin, said that Bromberg’s “interpretation of that statute is misplaced.”

“The statute clearly provides that all candidates who filed a joint petition with the county clerk of their respective county shall choose the same designation shall be drawn on a position of the ballot as a unit,” Athanasopoulos stated.

Toto appeared to push back on that argument, but made it clear that there is no statute that offers clarity on the issue.

“You’re telling me that every spot has to be filled in order to be considered and fully bracketed petition?” Toto asked.  “Where’s the support for that.”

“By implication of that statute, and the county clerk and exercising her discretion and based on the petitions past practice (and) the advice of County Council,” Athanasopoulos responded.

Bromberg argued that Pinkin has “no discretion to create a new definition” of a joint petition.

“The legislature has been clear and its statutory instructions that you have joint petition,” she told Toto.  “There’s nothing to sit to suggest a more robust interpretation of joint.

The failure to hold a ballot draw also affects a Republican primary in Middlesex County,  where 6th district congressional candidate Rik Mehta filed three county commissioner candidates but also not candidate for sheriff.  Mehta also wants the chance for a better position on the primary ballot.

“The Court must look first to the plain language of the statute, seeking further guidance only to the extent that the legislature’s intent cannot be derived from the words of his chosen the statutes.  Words deserve to be given their ordinary meaning and significance,” said Ronald Berutti, an attorney representing Mehta in his motion to intervene in the lawsuit.  “In a court may not presume that the legislature intended something other than that expressed by way of the plain language, which is exactly the point.”

Pinkin had abruptly cancelled the ballot draw – the only county clerk to so – on Thursday, hours before  the scheduled event and less than an hour after her plane returning from a junket to Ireland landed at Newark Liberty International Airport.

She did not appear on camera in a virtual court hearing on Monday, but Athanasopoulos said that Pinkin was with her in the county counsel’s office.  The deputy county clerk, not Pinkin, addressed the judge on issues relating to the printing of the ballots.  She said ballots need to go to the printer by Wednesday.

“What we are litigating is that the clerk herself does not have discretion to create a novel and new use of the term joint petition. If the legislature wanted otherwise, the legislature would have indicated it,” Bromberg said.  “The legislature has indicated a system in which, if there are higher term candidates that are running for statewide office, such as gubernatorial or otherwise, that there is one way of doing it.”

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