West Amwell voters may be feeling a sense of Déjà vu.
Voters in the small town of about 4,000 will again see a Township Committee race between Lucas Lyons and Lawrence Herman.
Lyons, a Republican, defeated the Democrat last year but had his win invalidated by the courts after West Amwell Democrats sued, claiming the West Amwell native did not meet the 12-month residency requirement needed to run for local office.
“No matter how long you lived in the township, if you’re out of the township, you have to reestablish residency for a year,” Herman said.
Lyons scored a solid win against Herman last year, finishing third in a three-candidate race for two seats and defeating the Democrat 535-391.
Republican Township Committeeman James Cally finished first with 583 votes, and Democrats only ran a single candidate that year.
Despite the race being a rematch, the COVID-19 crisis has made some easy-to-spot differences in this year’s contest.
West Amwell is almost a suburb of Lambertville. The town has just 2,348 registered voters, with Republicans leading Democrats in registration 826-666.
Each of those voters, along with 840 unaffiliateds, six libertarians, two members of the Green Party and eight residents registered with some political organization received a vote by mail ballot for this year’s race.
There will be no in-person polling, and the pandemic has put a stop to all traditional-person campaigning.
While each campaign has sent out roughly 800 mailers — Herman said his campaign may send out another wave ahead of election day — they’ve been able to do to little else apart from call voters and plug their bids on social media.
While both sides declined to make any predictions about turnout — the May races are the first in the state’s history to be conducted entirely through the post, and there is no empirical basis for such predictions — Lyons believes the advantage is with him.
“I think we’re going to win. It’s predominantly a Republican township, and I do have grassroots here, and my opponent doesn’t, so we feel pretty good about it,” said Lyons, who has lived in West Amwell for 29 non-consecutive years.
New Jersey Democrats have, traditionally, won larger margins in mail-in ballot totals than they have on election day, but that advantage can be attributed to their devoting more resources to VBMs.
On top of forcing a rematch, the Democrats’ suit of Lyons’ residency has become something of a campaign issue, with Democrats attacking Republicans over what they say was an attempt to cheat the system and Republicans claiming the suit was an “unethical” political maneuver.
“I question my opponent’s ethics as far as taking me to court, is all,” Lyons said. “It was a very frivolous lawsuit, in my opinion, questioning really a month’s time as far as getting my (certificate of occupancy), and I lived in the township for 29 out of 37 years of my life and moved away just for a career opportunity for a few years, other than college.”
Herman also had problems with the court decision, despite the fact that Superior Court Judge Yolanda Ciccone’s ruling gave him a second chance at the seat.
“Usually when there’s some sort of race — doesn’t matter what it is, political or anything else — if you don’t abide by the rules, you lose. They don’t rerun the race because you didn’t play by the rules,” he said. “I just thought it was a very strange ruling.”
Still, there’s some precedent for Ciccone’s decision.
After Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera won her first term in the legislature in the wake of 2011’s reapportionment, her Republican opponents sued, claiming she wasn’t eligible to run for the seat because she had fallen 45 days short of the 365-day residency requirement.
The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed, ruling she couldn’t hold the seat, and ordered a special election be held.
Democratic Committees in Camden and Gloucester Counties met on Feb. 29, 2012, and awarded Mosquera a year of her own unexpired term. By that time, she had lived in the district for more than one year.
She won the special election and has held her seat since then without much contest.