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South Jersey Progressives gather last year.

South Jersey progressives sue to stay on the ballot

Challengers claim clerks incorrectly processed petitions

By Nikita Biryukov, April 09 2020 11:20 am

A group of progressive Democrats candidates sued clerks in four South Jersey counties, claiming the officials were keeping them off the ballot by incorrectly processing the challengers’ nominating petitions.

The thirteen progressive candidates claim clerks in Camden, Gloucester, Cape May and Cumberland Counties did not properly count all the signatures on their electronically-filed nominating petitions.

“Progressive candidates’ right to compete in the upcoming primary elections shouldn’t be denied because these clerks claimed technical difficulties prevented them from accepting their nominating petitions,” New Jersey Working Families state director Sue Altman said. “We’re asking the courts to intervene to ensure that these clerks follow state law and Executive Order 105 and give voters a choice in the upcoming election.”

Altman’s organization is coordinating the suit.

The suit claims Camden County Freeholder candidates Roberta Reavey and Dennis Gormley filed 131 signatures, but the county clerk counted only 96 for Gormley and 109 for Reavey.

In Cape May County, the progressives said their four candidates — Musawwir Shaheed Bashir, Deborah De La Cretaz, Jeremiah Schenerman and Noelle Jacquelin — submitted 116 signatures, while the county clerk approved fewer than 100.

Cumberland County Clerk Celeste Riley claimed to have received no signatures from Dennis D’Augostine, who is running for sheriff in the county. The progressives said D’Augostine and their slate of three Cumberland freeholder candidates, which includes incumbent Freeholder Jack Surrency, filed with 151 petitions.

That’s the same number they say Gloucester County freeholder candidates Sherry Lynn Hall, Howard Clark and Lisa Bonanno submitted, though the clerk there reported receiving only 94 signatures.

Candidates for countywide office need at least 100 signatures to make it onto the ballot.

“It comes down to this, one technical glitch with a new untested process should not lock us out of the ballot box,” Shaheed Bashir said. “We have enough signatures and should be allowed to run.”

Veteran political operative David Parano and his firm handled signature gathering for the progressives.

Parano gathered signatures for each voter individually, uploaded the signed petitions to a Google Drive and sent the relevant link to each clerk, according to the suit.

The suit said 42 signatures Parano submitted in the same way on behalf of House candidate Amy Kennedy were received without issue.

“Since Covid-19 has forced candidates to collect signatures for ballot petitions from online and since this is an unexpected trial run of exclusively DocuSign-collected signatures, it would seem that the important essential element would be whether or not the people who signed petitions are bona fide registered voters, not whether or not artificial intelligence delivered  technical perfection,” Reevey said. “To reject the signatures of registered voters for technical reasons under current uncertain circumstances amounts to a form of voter suppression.”

The progressives are seeking an order to compel the clerks to place them on the ballot.

They are seeking separate charges against Camden County Clerk Joseph Ripa, who the progressives say falsely claimed Reavey and Gormley filed their petitions with enough duplicate signatures to get knocked below the 100-signer threshold.

Further, the challengers want clerks to conduct a second ballot draw.

Clerks are set to draw for ballot positions Thursday.

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