An already contentious race for the 25th district Democratic State Senate nomination in a Republican-leaning district has hit a snag over late appointments to fill county committee vacancies.
The additional votes – 13 out of a total of 322 – could potentially be a determining factor in what Democratic observers say is a tight race between former Morris Township mayor Jeff Grayzel, attorney Cliff Dawkins, and 2018 freeholder candidate Rupande Mehta for the chance to take on State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) in a special election.
Democrats cancelled their convention tomorrow in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic and replaced with an online vote.
Further complicating the race is the use of ranked choice voting for the first time, if no candidate receives a majority on the first ballot.
Supporters of Dawkins have complained that Randolph Democratic municipal chair Meghan Lynch, a Mehta supporter, appointed county committee members to help her candidate. The seats, empty since at least 2018, gives Randolph a full complement of 38 seats for the convention vote.
“If it is decided by such close margins, it may call the whole process into question because of these last minute appointments, and it’s probably safe to say that no one has the appetite for any more controversy,” the Dawkins campaign said to party leaders in an email obtained by the New Jersey Globe.
The deadline to fill county committee vacancies was March 1, according to rules circulated by the Morris County Democrats.
Lynch says he met those deadlines, maintaining that Randolph Democrats met on February 10 to approve the appointments. She told the Globe that the names were submitted to the municipal clerk and that there was confusion over whose responsibility it was to notify Morris County Clerk Ann Grossi.
“It is clean,” Lynch said.
Party by-laws allow municipal committees to fill their own vacancies. It is the responsibility of the municipal chair to notify the county chair.
Morris County Democratic Chairman Chip Robinson said he would allow the new county committee members to participate in tomorrow’s vote.
“I’m not in the business of stopping people from voting,” Robinson said.
Two campaigns confirmed that the names of the new county committee members were not provided to them until late this week.
Dawkins’ team objected to the new members, saying they weren’t given an opportunity to campaign for those votes.
“We must all acknowledge that this sets a very disconcerting precedent, and that we have rules and deadlines for a reason,” the campaign email said. “We must also acknowledge that there will be next to no time to properly campaign to these new County Committee members or add them to mailing lists that allow them to familiarize themselves with all of the candidates and the various issues.”
It’s possible that the new voters could make the difference of who wins the convention – a vote that has outsized importance since all three candidates have promised not to run off-the-line in the June Democratic primary.
Two candidates said they would not object to having newly-appointed district leaders cast provisional ballots tomorrow. That way, if the winner’s margin exceeds the potentially-contested votes, the issue of eligibility would be moot.
If the race comes down to the Randolph votes, they candidates could fight it out then.
Robinson told the Globe that he has not considered provisional ballots. Lynch said she would not object to that.
There is no indication that the losing candidates will change their minds about running in the primary, even if the new Randolph voters turn out to be the deciding factor in the race.
Voting will take place between 3-8 PM on Sunday.
Editor’s note: an earlier version of this story understated the total number of votes by 8.