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Middlesex County Clerk Nancy J. Pinkin. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Judge orders Pinkin to hold ballot draw today

By David Wildstein, April 19 2022 10:21 am

A Superior Court judge has ordered embattled Middlesex County Clerk Nancy Pinkin to hold a ballot drawing today and said that three Piscataway council candidates running off the line on a slate with two county commissioner candidates may compete for Column A on the June Democratic primary ballot.

The ruling will also allow Rik Mehta, a GOP congressional candidate running off the line in New Jersey’s 6th district, to compete for the top column in the Republican primary.

Judge Michael Toto said that “all candidates who qualify for preferential ballot draw through the submission of joint petitions” will be “eligible for preferential ballot draw and for an equal opportunity to secure Column A.”

The embattled Pinkin cancelled the ballot draw less than an hour after she returned from a junket to Ireland last Thursday.

Pinkin had argued that the rival slate didn’t qualify for the top ballot position because they didn’t have a third county commissioner candidate and a candidate for sheriff.   “Democrats for Transparency and Fairness,” the other ticket, filed a lawsuit to compel a ballot draw.

“This case boils down to the definition of ‘joint’ as used in reference to joint petitions for candidates under the same designation or slogan on voting machine ballots, and whether Plaintiff’s partially bracketed group qualifies as a joint position entitling them to a drawing for ballot positions,” Toto wrote in his decison.

Toto found that county clerks are not statutorily obligated to hold a drawing.

“There is no mandate that the ballot draw be held, and such a decision is left to the discretion of Defendant. Absent a showing of empirical evidence that a County Clerk infringes on candidates’ Constitutional rights in not holding a draw, her decision not to hold the draw is completely within her statutory discretion, even when—as here—there are multiple joint petitions vying for Column A. Being listed in Column B is not per se a detriment that rises to the level of a Constitutional violation,” Toto said.

But Toto determined that a “consideration of the equities here favors a different conclusion.”  He said if Pinkin had never represented that there would be a ballot draw, “she would have been completely within her discretion and Plaintiffs would not be entitled to one here.”

“But for (Pinkin’s) incorrect interpretation of ‘joint,’ Pinkin would have held the draw and (Piscataway slate) would have had an equal chance as being listed in Column A. The reason for not conducting the draw was not a legal sustainable theory,” Toto said in his decision.  “A balancing of the interests here favors protecting the integrity of the election process, and commands a drawing for ballot position.”

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