A court hearing for the ongoing battle between the Teaneck town clerk and the town’s One Town One Vote initiative has been set for September 13 – a date late enough to potentially interfere with Bergen County’s ability to print and deliver the town’s ballots on time.
Last Wednesday, Teaneck Town Clerk Doug Ruccione rejected petitioners’ second attempt to put a referendum on Teaneck’s November ballot which would move local elections from May to November, citing supposed errors in the petition. The petitioners immediately filed suit, and the town submitted an opposition.
The case was assigned to Superior Court Judge Robert C. Wilson, who set a court date on September 13 and granted a temporary restraining order which prevents any Teaneck ballots from being printed until that date.
In theory, if the case is fully resolved one way or another on that date, then Bergen County will still be able to meet the state’s deadlines for when ballots must be printed and mailed. September 13 marks the deadline for when ballots must be finalized, and absentee ballots are mailed out beginning on September 18.
But if the case drags on past September 13, or if a ruling comes down and the losing party files an appeal, the timeline for printing and distributing Teaneck’s ballots may grow far more complicated.
According to Steve Chong, the deputy county clerk of Bergen County, his office is hoping for an early resolution to the court case but preparing for the possibility that it will continue past state deadlines.
“Right now, we’re not planning to print Teaneck’s ballot until we hear something first,” Chong said. “We don’t have the referendum question right now, so we don’t want to print the wrong ballot. We’ve got to hold everything until we’re sure we’re printing out the right ballot for Teaneck. We have plans that we can do, even on such short notice.”
The longer the delay in sending out the town’s ballots, the larger the potential effects on races even beyond Teaneck. With a population of over 41,000, Teaneck has the second-largest number of registered voters in Bergen County and a reliable source of Democratic votes in the county – and in a statewide election. In the event of a close election, a logjam in Teaneck could thus prove critical.
Teaneck also has a significant number of voters of color, and delays could mean that whiter Bergen County suburbs might have longer to vote.
The legal counsel for the One Town One Vote initiative, Scott Salmon of Jardim, Meisner, and Susser, P.C., said that the petitioners anticipated this problem with ballot preparation, and accordingly made sure to file their suit as soon as possible.
“We brought this lawsuit as quickly as we could so we could get a resolution hopefully before the deadlines but also knew that it was possible it would spill over, which is why we requested the temporary restraining order,” Salmon said. “We are confident that as soon as Judge Wilson reads through the papers and hears our arguments, he will agree with our position and allow the question to be placed on the ballot.”
Wilson has the option of fast-tracking his calendar – opening on an evening or weekend, if necessary – in order to obviate any allegations of disenfranchisement by Teaneck voters as a result of delayed vote-by-mail ballot mailings.
Chong said that no matter the ultimate outcome in court, the county clerk’s office will work to deliver Teaneck’s ballots in as timely a fashion as possible.
“I hate to see that the Teaneck ballot is being held because of the court cases, but we are ready,” he said. “We have enough manpower, we have enough experience, and we have enough processes to deliver a successful election for Teaneck’s voters like we’ve always done.”
This story was updated at 11:41 a.m. with comment from the One Town One Vote legal counsel.