Teaneck Town Clerk Doug Ruccione has once again rejected petitioners for the One Town One Vote initiative in their efforts to move the township’s local elections from May to November. The petitioners have, in return, filed suit to force a referendum onto the ballot.
On July 29, Ruccione rejected the first petition from the group of organizers, among them Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), citing what he said was an insufficient number of signatures and other deficiencies in the petition. His rejection letter gave the petitioners ten days to collect more signatures and resubmit.
In the following ten days, the organizers collected another 2,100 signatures, bringing the total to 3,450, and submitted them to Ruccione on August 9. They also indicated they would sue if the petition was rejected once again.
Ruccione said he would review the new petition by August 13, but soon afterwards pushed his own deadline back to August 18.
Today, Ruccione said that while his office has still only reviewed 655 of the 2,100 new signatures, he is rejecting the petition once again, on the grounds that it did not sufficiently correct other the errors present in the first petition.
According to Ruccione, the primary fault in the language of the petition is that it relies on N.J.S.A. 40:69A-25.1, which Ruccione interprets as applying only to elections switching from partisan to non-partisan and vice versa.
“Unfortunately, because the Committee, as stated on the face of the Petition, has relied upon 25.1, the Petition is defective and deficient. 25.1 only permits a change from a non-partisan to a partisan election or a partisan to a non-partisan election,” Ruccione’s letter stated.
However, while Ruccione said that his July 29 letter mentioned such an issue, that earlier letter contains no such language, and One Town One Vote organizer Reshma Khan said that Ruccione never raised that specific issue with the petitioners before.
In what is perhaps a sign that both parties are increasingly frustrated by the prolonged battle, language from each side has grown sharper and harsher.
“Any reasonable person who reviewed the Petition would have been confused by the Committee’s improper and illegal attempt” at combining and interpreting two election laws, Ruccione wrote. “As the Committee has clearly and repeatedly stated that it is not their intent to make Teaneck elections partisan, the Petition is miswritten and confusing.”
The petitioners strongly pushed back, saying that Ruccione was under the thumb of the anti-petition majority of the Teaneck Town Council, and that his actions constituted voter suppression.
“Voter suppression has come to Teaneck,” said Jeremy Lentz, a film festival director and one of the chief One Town One Vote petitioners. “These days, Teaneck is looking no different than Georgia or Texas.”