Home>Campaigns>RNC lawsuit against Mercer County to force release of ballot cure letters moving forward

Mercer County Counsel Paul Adezio. (Photo: New Jersey Globe).

RNC lawsuit against Mercer County to force release of ballot cure letters moving forward

Judge sets October 4 hearing on GOP allegations that the Mercer County Board of Elections is violating N.J. Ballot Cure Act, OPRA

By David Wildstein, August 30 2022 11:30 am

A lawsuit filed by the Republican National Committee to force the Mercer County Division of Elections to provide copies of ballot cure letters within 72 hours will be heard on October 4, Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy said in a six-minute conference on Tuesday.

Republicans allege that Mercer County was in violation of the state’s Ballot Cure Act after they refused to respond to public document requests for the 2021 general election and the 2022 primary.   The relatively new law permits voters to remediate their vote-by-mail ballots if they were rejected for a technical deficiency, such as a signature that does not match one on file.

Ballot cure letters are supposed to be publicly available within three days of being sent out.

The RNC also says that the county is in violation of New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act.

It’s not immediately clear why Mercer County has decided to fight the issue in court on a law that the other 20 counties appear to follow.

“An important tenet of our election laws is that everyone needs to be able to see and understand why a ballot is disqualified,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University.  “It helps to inspire bipartisan confidence in our elections, which is why it shouldn’t take a court case to force a board of elections to comply.

While Mercer County rarely has close partisan elections, that could change this fall if the race between Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) and Republican Bob Healey turns out to be close.

If that happens, both sides would be chasing cure letters in Hamilton, Lawrence, East Windsor, West Windsor and Robbinsville for a November 19 deadline before the results of the election are certified on November 21.

The lawsuit could also affect contests for mayor and Trenton city council.  Trenton moved their non-partisan municipal elections from May to November this year, and where runoffs typically occur.

A court hearing had initially been set for September 27, but Mercer County Counsel Paul Adezio asked for more time.

“I did not receive a copy of the order until last week,” said Adezio, referring to an order to show cause signed by Lougy on August 1.

The RNC counsel, Jason Sena of Archer & Grenier, said he had no problem with the extra time, but did voice some fear of a short calendar runway.

“My only concern is that we will be pushing too close to the November 8 election,” Sena said.

If one of the parties chooses to appeal Lougy’s eventual ruling, a sluggish appellate court system could leave the matter unaddressed through Election Day.

The Board of Elections, which is statutorily comprised of an equal number of members from both major parties, currently has a Democratic majority.

The seat of Republican Anthony Conti remains vacant.  Mercer County GOP Chair Lisa Richford has submitted the name of Charles Farina to fill the open seat, but Gov. Phil Murphy has not yet filed his appointment.

The RNC began seeking ballot cure letters on October 19, 2021.  Mercer appears to have punted and sought extensions, at one point saying the documents would be released after the certification date but did not respond until 91 days later, on January 18, 2022, and still did not give the records they asked for.

Since the settlement of a lawsuit filed by the New Jersey League of Women Voters in 2020 challenging the rejection of VBM ballots for signature match issues, the chasing of cure letters has become routine for close elections.

Ballot cure letters must be mailed to voters within 24 hours of a ballot being rejected.

Cure letters may be returned up to two days before the final certification of election results.  That sets a deadline this year of November 19.

If Lougy determines that Mercer has an OPRA violation, it could force Mercer County to pay the RNC’s legal bill.

New Jersey is one of 24 states with a ballot cure letter law, according to the non-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures.

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