A Superior Court Judge says he’ll issue a written decision by early next week in a lawsuit filed by the Republican National Committee to force the Mercer County Board of Elections to comply with a state law requiring the release of ballot cure letters within 72 hours.
Republicans launched a lawsuit in July alleging that Mercer County violated New Jersey’s Ballot Cure Act – a law that allows voters whose vote-by-mail ballots were rejected for technical deficiencies, including unmatched signatures, to remedy their ballots when they failed to respond to a request for public records in November 2021 and June 2022.
Mark Sena, an attorney representing the RNC, argued that time was of the essence in obtaining public records related to cure letters and other voting lists.
“Once the horse was out of the barn, it was out of the barn,” Sena said. “Once the canvassing occurred, the information would become useless.”
Robert Lougy, the Mercer County assignment judge, will decide if Mercer violated the state’s Open Public Records Act, and if the RNC is entitled to recoup their counsel fees.
Lougy asked the county counsel, Paul Adezio, why Mercer was unable to produce the lists when other counties were able to do so using the Statewide Voter Registration System.
“All the county boards of elections are using the same technology, correct?” Lougy asked.
“Correct,” said Adezio.
“So if one county can do it, if one county can do it in another county can do it?
“Yes,” Adezio replied.
Adezio placed some of the blame of the legislature, which has been changing election laws over the last few years.
“Not to create excuses or reasons, but we’re severely overwhelmed by all the new legislation that came down and the requirements that have to be instituted by the Board of Elections as a result of all the changes made by the legislature,” Adezio said. “So they’re working on that, and they will be using this case, obviously, as a reason to go forward to change the way they address certain requests as they come in.”
Additionally, Adezio argued that the legislature was deficient in not including ballot cure letters as part of the OPRA law.
“It does not list any election documents as being a government record requiring an immediate turnaround. The legislature obviously created a whole lot set of new requirements and new laws in the past two years, but they did not amend OPRA to include election information as a government record,” Adezio said. “That has to be immediately released. And therefore, we argue that it doesn’t have to be created.
Lougy hinted that he might be siding with the RNC, asking Sena about legal fees that could be awarded for the county’s OPRA violation.
“In the event that the court concludes that you’ve prevailed, you and Mr. Adezio want to speak about counseling fees? Or do you want me to make the call?
Sena and Adezio agreed to speak privately and get back to the judge with a recommendation.
The state attorney general’s office did not participate in the hearing.