Click play for audio version of this story
In a race for Congress in a central New Jersey district, Democratic Rep. Isaac Farlee (D-Flemington) challenged the results of his 1844 re-election defeat because 36 students from Princeton University
Whig nominee John Runk beat Farlee by 16 votes in a district that consisted of Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset and Hunterdon counties.
Farlee maintained that the votes of the Princeton students were illegal because they were only temporary residents of the congressional district.
The New Jersey Constitution, approved in May, defined eligible voters as “every white male citizen of the United States, of the age of twenty-one years, who shall have been a resident of this State one year and of the county in which he claims his vote five months next before the election.”
New Jersey election laws – no less confusing as they are today – that out-of-state students should no vote.
Whig Party presidential candidate Henry Clay carried New Jersey by 818 votes against Democrat James K. Polk. Clay’s running mate was New Jerseyan Theodore Frelinghuysen.
A House committee hearing election challenges found that just 19 of the 36 students were eligible to vote in 1844 election. The committee determined that law on students voting was passed before the new State Constitution, so they ignored it.
One of the arguments in an era when vote-by-mail ballots did not exist was that students from other states attending Princeton would be unable to vote anywhere else.
In depositions from those 19, four said they voted for Runk and one for Farlee.
Farlee had served four one-year terms in the State Assembly – all non-consecutive. After his defeat, he returned to Hunterdon County and won a State Senate seat.
Runk was a Hunterdon County freeholder and sheriff before going to Congress. When he ran for a second term in Polk’s 1846 mid-term election, he received just 27% of the vote against Democrat Joseph E. Edsall.
In 1850, Runk won the Whig Party nomination for Governor of New Jersey but lost to George Franklin Fort by 5,672 votes, a 54%-46% margin.