Judge Donald Minkowitz is in no apparent rush to settle the disputed results of the June Democratic primary for Dover Alderman. He has set a trial date of September 17, the day election officials say they need to begin printing general election vote by mail ballots.
In the June primary, challenger Carlos Valencia defeated incumbent Ronald Camacho by twelve votes. Valencia ran on the Morris Democratic organization line as part of the insurgent Dover First slate, while Camacho was allied with Mayor James Dodd. Attorneys for Camacho filed a legal challenge on July 7, alleging that 33 voters fraudulently cast their ballots in the Democratic primary.
Minkowitz didn’t schedule a hearing on the matter until August 15. Typically, judges hear election-related matters on an expedited basis.
If the challenge actually goes to trial – proving fraudulent intent in an election matter is a difficult task – then Minkowitz will need to determine which of the votes he will count. That may include subpoenaing voters to testify and compelling them to state which candidate they voted for, if they even remember.
Valencia is being represented by Scott Salmon, a former Democratic congressional candidate. Camacho’s lawyer is a Republican, Alan Zakin.
One problem for Minkowitz is the possibility that the election could end in a tie, leaving no time to schedule another primary election. George Cohen, a deputy state attorney general, told the court that the Board of Elections will begin mailing vote by mail ballots on September 22.
Judges are traditionally reluctant to overturn election results, although there are circumstances where it has happened.
In 1976, Rep. Henry Helstoski (D-East Rutherford) defeated Assemblyman Byron Baer (D-Englewood) in the Democratic primary for Congress in New Jersey’s 9th district. Helstoski had been indicted on extortion charges five days earlier.
With Baer looking at a recount, Helstoski’s margin began to grown, largely through the efforts of some old-fashioned machine politicians in North Bergen and Union City, who came up with 1,642 additional absentee ballots for the congressman – and just 79 more for Baer.
Baer maintained that the Hudson results were fraudulent and quickly challenged the election in court. Baer said that irregularities in the absentee ballots included erasures and similarities in handwriting.
The challenge lasted well into the summer. Baer picked up 200 votes on June 24 when Superior Court Judge Thomas O’Brien ordered a recount of voting machines in North Bergen. On August 11, more than two months after the primary, Superior Court Judge John Marzulli ordered that a new primary election be held on September 21. Helstoski willingly agreed to the new election, partly out of fear that the Judge was prepared to disqualify enough votes to certify Baer as the winner.
In a September 21 do-over of the June primary, Helstoski beat the out-of-money Baer by ten percentage points. The disarray – and the indictment – helped Republican Harold Hollenbeck unseat Helstoski in the general election.