Rep. Tom Malinowski’s (D-Ringoes) campaign filed suit Friday seeking to force five of the 7th congressional district’s counties to release lists of voters who sent in rejected naked ballots as the incumbent’s lead against State Sen. Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-Westfield) continues to narrow.
The congressman’s suit against elections boards, their chairs and county clerks in Somerset, Warren, Morris, Hunterdon and Essex counties asks that his campaign be provided with a list of ballot rejections and their justifications or that they be allowed to review rejected ballots under supervision to create their own list.
The latter offer is meant to avoid burdening already strained election boards.
Malinowski’s team wants to contact voters who returned naked ballots — ones lacking an inner envelope bearing a voter’s signature — so they can cure them ahead of the November 18 deadline.
They charge voters should be able to cure those ballots because state law requires election officials to send a cure letter if a voter’s ballot has a missing or mismatched signature. Without an inner envelope there is no signature.
So far, the five counties have largely rejected the idea of sending cure letters for naked ballots, though a Hunterdon County Superior Court judge last week ordered officials there to allow cures for roughly 20 voters who returned naked ballots.
Judge Robert Wilson denied the Democratic State Committee’s request to force all 21 of the state’s counties to abide by that ruling.
He also didn’t require Hunterdon apply it to all voters, though Hunterdon County Board of Elections administrator Beth Thompson told O’Neill she did not agree with the position of the of the Attorney General’s office, which argued naked ballots should be rejected outright because of chain of custody issues.
Malinowski’s campaign sent Open Public Records Act requests to the five counties seeking ballots rejected for any reason. Hunterdon provided some information but not since election day. The other four counties didn’t provide any information, the suit said.
State law requires election officials enter all received votes — rejected or not — into the Statewide Voter Registration System. Entries for rejected ballots must include the reason for rejection.
It’s not clear how many ballots were rejected for lacking an inner envelope. Malinowski has seen his 28,412-vote election-night lead shrink to 4,339 Friday night. He now leads the Kean 208,633 to 204,293, 50.5% to 49.5%.
Bruce Spiva, of Perkins Coie LLP, and Scott D. Salmon, of Jardim, Meisner & Susser, P.C. are representing Malinowski’s campaign. It’s not yet clear who from the state Division of Law will represent the counties.
Mercer County Assignment Judge Mary C. Jacobson ordered the case transferred to the Somerset/Hunterdon/Warren vicinage, and it’s not immediately clear who will preside over the case.