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Superior Court Judge Michael O'Neill. (Photo: New Jersey Globe/Zoom).

Adults voting from parents home could determine outcome of Hunterdon school referendum

Up to Judge Michael O’Neill to decide if he’ll allow some votes cast by people who are no longer full-time New Jersey residents

By David Wildstein, June 01 2022 2:45 pm

How long can an adult out of college and living on their own still keep voting from a parent’s home?

That’s a question Superior Court Judge Michael O’Neill must decide in a court challenge to a $33.4 million South Hunterdon Regional School bond referendum vote that passed by just two votes last November.

Three voters testified today that they identify as New Jerseyans – and cast vote-by-mail ballots in the 2021 general election — even though they no longer live in the state:

* Olivia Peluso, a  24-year-old woman who went to college in California and still lives there – she works as an assistant news editor for a national magazine – is  registered to vote in Lambertville, where her mother resides.

Peluso said she paid New Jersey income tax in 2020 and still has a New Jersey drivers license and bank account.

An attorney for the school board, Scott Salmon, noted that her participation in the Greater Lambertville Chamber of Commerce Turkey Trot.

* Jacob Mercer-Pontier, a 33-year-old man who graduated from South Hunterdon Regional High School in 2007 is still voting from his family home in Lambertville.  He lived in Edison as graduating from college and has resided in London for the last seven years, where he works for a publishing company.

“I don’t consider London a permanent address,” he said, noting that the lease on his flat ends next year.  “I’m planning on leaving London at that point.”

Mercer-Pontier said that he still has a New Jersey drivers license and bank account, also using his parents address, but did not pay New Jersey income taxes.  He testified that he signed up for the Turkey Trot, but did not participate.

* Aiden Donnelly, a 23-year-old man who graduated college this spring and is now living in Boston, voted from his family home in Lambertville.  Donnelly said he doesn’t plan to return to New Jersey.

The mother of a fourth voter, 25-year-old Ross Rackin, a 2015 graduate of South Hunterdon Regional High School, testified that her son attended college out of state and moved to Montreal after graduation.  He moved back to his family home in 2020, during the pandemic,  but his mother testified that he had a lease on an apartment in New York City in 2021.  Rackin is currently traveling in Peru; his mother said he intends to relocate to the west coast.

Matt Moench, the attorney for a group of West Amwell local officials challenging the election, said he has been unable to serve a subpoena on another voter, Wyatt Nestor-Pasiczynk.  He suggested that his inability to effectuate service might be an indication that Pasiczynk does not reside in the jurisdiction of the election.

It’s not clear how many of these individuals, if any at all, voted on the referendum.   If O’Neill determines that any of these voters were not eligible to vote in the school referendum election, he could recall them as witnesses and compel them to state how they voted.

O’Neill questioned  Moench as to why he didn’t ask the voters how they voted during their testimony today.

“We have no right to ask them how they voted,” Moench said.

Salmon agreed, saying that state law allows only a judge to ask a voter how they voted.

“Oh,” O’Neill said.  Hmm.  Interesting.  This is the first election challenge of this type that I’ve heard, not that I’ve heard all that many in total.”

Last week, O’Neill ruled that a mail-in ballot cast by a 93-year-old woman did not count because of a signature match.  That woman, Julia S. Kerr, died a month after the election.

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