Vote-by-mail ballots for Paterson’s May 10 municipal election have still not gone out as election officials await a decision from two state appellate court judges who have had the case for more than a week.
The judges, Mary Gibbons Whipple and Ronald Susswein, have not yet ruled on an appeal challenging a trial court ruling that mayoral candidate Alex Mendez could remain on the ballot in an election that is just 20 days away.
But as Whipple and Susswein contemplate their decision, a court order halting the printing and mailing of ballots remains in effect.
Attorney Raj Parikh argued many of the voters who signed the Mendez petitions also signed for other candidates, citing a state law that says any voter who signs multiple petitions should have all of their signatures invalidated. Mendez had field with 872 signatures, five more than he needed to get on the ballot.
On April 8, Superior Court Judge Thomas Brogan rejected the challenge to Mendez’s petitions.
The appeal seeking emergent relief was filed on April 11. An initial scheduling order would have required briefs to be filed by April 22, but both parties appear to have agreed to an expedited schedule. Instead, Parikh filed his brief on April 13 and respondent appeals came two days later.
Mendez’s attorney is Matt Moench.
The sluggishness of the state appellate court process potentially disenfranchises voters and impairs candidates who might be unable to properly conduct an early voting campaign within the parameters set by the statute.
Mendez was the runner-up in the 2018 mayoral race, finishing with 21% of the vote to Sayegh’s 41%. Since then, Mendez has been indicted for election fraud involving his 2020 campaign for city council, but he is nevertheless seen as the strongest challenger to Sayegh in this year’s election.
A judge invalidated the results of Mendez’s first campaign, but he was elected to the city council in a November 2020 do-over election despite his indictment.
Also running are Councilmen Michael Jackson, who is also under indictment on voter fraud charges, and Luis Velez and former Councilman Aslon Goow.
Parikh represented Vincent Iannacone, who sued City Clerk Sonia Gordon to get Menendez off the ballot. Iannacone filed the appeal.
A spokesperson for the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts declined comment.
In a court challenge of a November 2020 election for the South Toms River Borough Council, it took appellate court judges more than six months to arrive at a decision. Too late to hold the election concurrent with the 2021 general, the delay left the seat unfilled until a March 2022 special election.