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Superior Court Judge Kathleen Sheedy. (Photo: NJ Globe).

Some counties miss deadlines to mail military ballots as they wait for judges to rule

Unclear how quickly appellate judges will act as election officials wait for go-ahead

By David Wildstein, April 26 2022 2:49 pm

A federal election law requiring that election officials begin mailing ballots to Americans serving in the military or living overseas at least 45 days before Election Day is sometimes fungible, especially when state court judges move slowly to render decisions that effectively block counties from following the mandate.

In New Jersey, ballots in Passaic and Union counties and in Howell Township still have not been printed as election officials await action by appellate court judges.

Vote-by-mail ballots in a contested Democratic primary for three seats on the Piscataway Township Council have still not been mailed, with voters expected to lose a full week as state and county election officials spar over who is to blame.

Middlesex County election officials allege that the state Division of Elections made mistakes in entering new ward boundaries in the Statewide Voter Registration System that prevented them from mailing ballots.  The Division of Elections denies that they made any errors.

In Passaic County, there’s an appeal pending over the presence of a new GOP candidate for sheriff on the primary ticket.  The original candidate, Troy Oswald, was booted from the ballot after he didn’t meet the three-year residency requirement.  Judge Ernest Caposela allowed Republicans to replace him with Mason Maher.  County Clerk Danielle Ireland-Imhof has filed an appeal, holding up the printing and mailing of GOP primary ballots.

Caposela issued a limited stay until April 29 pending a decision by two appellate court judges, Allison Accurso and Catherine Enright.  A brief from the county counsel is due at 5:30 PM today, with response briefs due at 12:30 PM tomorrow.

Republicans are still fighting the constitutionality of the residency law.  That case is now with the 3rd Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Union County Democratic primary ballots are on hold awaiting an appellate court ruling to determine whether three off-the-line candidates for county commissioner had 100 legitimate signatures on their nominating petitions needed to get on the ballot.

Superior Court Judge Alan Lesnewich tossed the petitions for the candidates running under the “Democrats for Change” banner last week, but they have filed an appeal.

In a more controversial ruling that has statewide implications, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Sheedy allowed two Republican council candidates in Howell to get on the ballot by combining their petitions – each with less than they required 50 valid signatures – with a third candidate, even though only one name appeared on each petition.

“Sheedy screwed the pooch on that one,” said a retired Superior Court judge who spoke on the condition of anonymity.  “In her defense, I don’t think she understood the issue.”

Her ruling is also under appeal.

Plaintiffs briefs for Union and Howell were filed on Monday and respondent briefs were due at noon today.

It’s not clear how long it will take the two appellate judges, Hany Mawla and Michael Haas, to reach a decision.  But ballots won’t be printed until they do, and every day is one less day that voting is available – and increases the possibility that ballots cast by military and overseas voters won’t be counted at all.

The printing and mailing of vote-by-mail ballots for the May 10 non-partisan elections for mayor and city council in Paterson were delayed for nearly two weeks as election officials awaited action from two appellate judges.

Some judges, like Lesnewich, Caposela, Middlesex Assignment Judge Michael Toto (who ordered embattled County Clerk Nancy Pinkin to hold a ballot draw), and U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Cox Arleo, moved at lightening speed to expedite election matters.  (Arleo was willing to hear her case on the Passaic sheriff residency issue on the Saturday of Easter weekend.)  Others, like Sheedy and the appellate judges in the Paterson matter, Mary Gibbons Whipple and Ronald Susswein, were more sluggish.

In some cases, the delay really is caused the plaintiff.  Stuart Minkowitz, the assignment judge in Morris County, heard a ballot case for the Rockaway Township GOP mayoral primary on Friday.  He chastised one of the attorneys for filing the matter in the wrong court and not properly noticing the other parties.

In the Howell case, court officials initially sought to deflect blame off of Sheedy by assigning responsibility to the plaintiffs counsel.  That caused Chief Justice Stuart Rabner to offer a private apology.

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.

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