The primary election was more than two months ago and some general election ballots are already in the mail, but a court challenge arguably fumbled by some judges continues in the race to pick a Republican candidate to challenge U.S. Senator Cory Booker.
Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration official Rik Mehta defeated Hirsh Singh by 8,727 votes in the July 7 GOP U.S. Senate primary, but Singh has filed for recounts in most of the state’s 21 counties.
Now, just 48 days before Election Day, judges are still figuring out how to handle a challenge to an election that Mehta has already won.
“This case has become entangled in judicial bureaucracy,” one lawyer told the New Jersey Globe. “There’s no good reason this thing is still going on.”
Singh filed for recounts shortly after the primary election results were certified in late July. Due to the complexities of New Jersey election law, individual challenges had to be filed in each county. Certification was delayed by a week in some parts of the state.
The perennial candidate doesn’t have a lawyer. He’s representing himself.
Some counties moved quickly to address Singh’s filing.
In Morris County, Judge Stuart Minkowitz signed an order to show cause three days after the filing. An order grating a recount was issued on August 11.
Judge Julio L. Mendez, a former county chairman who understands campaigns, denied Singh’s recount request in Atlantic County on August 11.
But in New Jersey, if you’ve seen one judge, you’ve seen one judge.
Singh’s recount request didn’t make it on the calendar of Judge Jean Chetney until August 31, when she held three separate hearings for Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem counties.
Judge Thomas C. Miller, who was handling Singh’s recount in Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties, held a case management conference on September 1 and scheduled a hearing for September 11 – two days after Ocean County began mailing ballots with Mehta as the Republican Senate candidate.
The courts told the New Jersey Globe on September 11 that the hearing had been cancelled, but declined to state the reason. The courts have offered contradictory statements on how the case is being handled.
On Tuesday, the courts said that Minkowitz had been designated to consolidate all of Singh’s individual petitions.
“The Clerk’s Office was working to physically consolidate the cases in the newly assigned docket and to address the pending matters already scheduled on Friday,” said Pete McAleer, a spokesman for the judiciary. “The order could not be made publicly available until those actions were taken and all parties were notified.”
According to the order, Singh’s “petitions should have been filed as one application to be decided by ‘any judge of the Superior Court assigned for that purpose.”
A spokesman for the attorney general, Leland Moore, told the Globe that no filing was made. He declined to comment on the case.
That part of it might still be unresolved.
“There was also a procedural issue raised yesterday by the attorney general’s office that may send the request for a recount back to Judge Miller in Somerset,” McAleer said.
Miller granted an order to transfer the case on September 14. Minkowitz gave seven days for the parties to be notified.
“Minkowitz is the one who should have gotten this case to start with,” another lawyer told the Globe. “He’s the one who got it right from the start. He’s the one who understands this law.”
The lawyer said that while New Jersey isn’t an automatic recount state, it’s a mandatory recount state as long as you’re willing to pay the fee.”
In granting Singh’s request for a hand recount in Morris County, Minkowitz said the Senate candidate needed to post a bond to cover the $9,900 cost upfront.
When Singh didn’t come up with the money, Minkowitz pulled the order.
One Republican strategist said that Singh’s path to winning was “somewhere between slim and none.”
But that strategist conceded that delays in closing the chapter on the GOP Senate primary would have a “catastrophic effect” on New Jersey’s November 3 general election if Singh were to prevail.
“What if the judge tells Singh to come up with $200,000 for a hand recount, and say Singh calls his bluff and comes up with the money? Then what?” the Republican asked. “And what if he prevails? That would mean the state, in the middle of an all vote-by-mail election, would need to reprint all the ballots and start this election over. No way a judge will put the state in that position.”