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New Jersey Superior Court Judge Stuart Minkowitz. (Photo: New Jersey Globe).

What happens if the judge adds new candidates to the ballot after voting begins?

Primary ballots go out on April 22, but Morris County Assignment Judge Stuart Minkowitz has set an April 28 hearing date to hear challenge to rejected petitons

By David Wildstein, April 10 2023 11:35 am

Update: Superior Court Judge Stuart Minkowitz has moved a hearing on petition challenges for Andrew Agliata from April 28 to April 17, and for local candidates in Dover from April 28 to April 18.  

State law requires the county clerk to begin mailing VBM ballots on April 22, but Superior Court Judge Stuart Minkowitz is waiting until April 28 to hear petition challenges for county and local candidates whose nominating petitions were rejected by local election officials.  In some cases, voters will be casting ballots for nearly a week before Minkowitz gets around to deciding who should be on the ballot.

Andrew Agliata wants to challenge Morris County Clerk Ann Grossi in the Republican primary, but his petitions were tossed for circulator irregularities.  Former Dover Mayor James P. Dodd and two alderman candidates running on his slate say the municipal clerk’s determination that they didn’t meet the one-year residency requirement was incorrect.

The New Jersey Globe has received several questions about how the primary might go, so here’s a Q&A based on a composite of questions that have been asked over the last few days.

What happens if the judge allows the rejected candidates on the ballot?

It will be a big mess.  The judge must order the county clerk to reprint, label and mail new ballots.  That will mean votes already cast will be nullified, and the election will start over.

Will voters fully understand what’s going on?

That’s unlikely.  It will be more plausible to imagine a voter having two ballots in their procession and returning the wrong one or not returning the new ballot because they believed they had already voted.  Those voters will be effectively disenfranchised from voting in the primary.

Does the scheduling of the hearing offer a hint that the judge has already decided to not allow the candidates on the ballot?

Hopefully not.  We all want to believe that judges don’t decide a case before they hear it.  The problem for judges is that sometimes the public views politics through a suspicious lens, and judges don’t want to offer the appearance that the process wasn’t fair.

Why didn’t the judge issue a temporary injunction to prevent the ballots from being printed or mailed until after the court rules?

A court spokesperson said that “a temporary injunction was not requested” by the plaintiffs.  Agliata is representing himself pro se and probably doesn’t know he needed to.

Can’t Ann Grossi just hold off until the court case is decided?

No.  The statute obligates her to commence mailing ballots on April 22, unless a judge tells her not to.

Challenges to petitions filed by legislative candidates were handled quickly.  Why is this taking so long?

New Jersey election law is sometimes a little absurd.  Candidates for Governor, U.S. Senator, Congress, State Senate, and Assembly are filed with the Secretary of State in Trenton, and challenges go to Administrative Law judges.  ALJs typically hear the challenge within one or two business days and render an immediate decision.  But petition challenges for county and municipal offices go to Superior Court judges, who sometimes move like turtles.

Can the decision be appealed?

Yes, but the appellate court doesn’t have a great track record of handling election matters expediently.  Last year, Appellate Judge Hany Mawla delayed hearing a petition challenge until August and didn’t issue a Tuchas-covering decision until September 12; had the appellate court overturned the lower court ruling, it would have been too late for a new primary.

How does this affect the other counties involved?

It doesn’t, even though there is a state law that suggests it should since Morris County shares legislative districts with Sussex, Warren, Union, Somerset, Middlesex and Passaic counties.  If ballots need to be reprinted, it just means voter in the other counties will have longer to vote than they do in Morris County.

Couldn’t that effect the outcome of an election, and maybe offer the perception that the judge is putting his thumb on the scale?

That’s probably an overreaction, since there are  a thousand things that could tip the balance of an election – especially a close one.  Still, judges ought to exercise an abundance of caution when it comes to election matters so that nobody accuses them of taking sides.

Who reimburses candidates who made campaign expenditures based on the election calendar?

Nobody.  If the judge orders new ballots and voids the old ones, any money the candidates spent on VBM response efforts based on an April 22 mailing date will be lost.

Is there a better way to do this?

Judges have the authority to expedite these cases; if they don’t, the legislature could force them to in the future.  Given the track record of Administrative Law Judges moving quickly, there are some who would prefer them to handle all election matters.

Why aren’t some personal identifiers in the Dover filing redacted?

That’s a question for Judge Minkowitz and the attorney for the Dodd team.  In some cases, social security numbers and driver’s license numbers were included in the public filing.

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