Home>Campaigns>Voter who signed Manchester runoff VBM won’t be counted, judge says

The Ocean County Courthouse in Toms River, New Jersey. (Photo: Ocean County).

Voter who signed Manchester runoff VBM won’t be counted, judge says

By David Wildstein, December 22 2022 2:34 pm

A Manchester voter who added her signature to a vote-by-mail ballot for the non-partisan municipal runoff election in Manchester on December 13 will not be counted, Superior Court Judge Craig Wellerson decided after a brief court hearing  today.

Voting along party lines, the Ocean County Board of Elections deadlocked on whether to count the vote.  New Jersey election law requires judges to act as the tiebreaker.

One vote does not impact the outcome of the election, but in a bid to prevent the disenfranchisement of the voter, whose name is being withheld by the New Jersey Globe to protect the confidentiality of the ballot, election law attorney Matt Moench, representing Mayor-elect Robert Arace, asked Wellerson to count the ballot.

Moench pointed out a 2021 appellate court decision he argued in South Toms River that upheld a trial court judge’s determination that two old friends who live together, a World War II veteran in his 90s and a man in his 80s, would have their November 20200 votes counted even though they signed their ballots. That led to a tie and a new election in 2022.

Ocean County Democratic Chairman Wyatt Earp, one of Board of Elections commissioners, said allowing signed ballots creates “a slippery slope.”

Earp cited an example.

“I’m an elected official.  I have people who work in my town hall and they better all go ahead and sign their ballot and I better be able to go and look and see that, you know, all my employees voted for me and their name is on that ballot,” Earp told the judge.

“I’m satisfied at this juncture that the statute prohibits extraneous marks on ballot for a good reason, that we want to preserve the secrecy of the voting process, that we want to make sure that there’s no retaliation against people and the easiest way to do that is to identify ballots by signature,” Wellerson said.  “The court finds that the legislature knew full well when it adopted the language of the statute that the ballots would be void if they did contain distinguishing marks.  That certainly a signature is a distinguishing mark that can be identified by the voter, to the exception of all others.”

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