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Superior Court Judge Kathleen Sheedy. (Photo: NJ Globe).

New petition rules after judge lets candidates merge petitions after voters signed them

Sheedy allows Howell Republicans to get on ballot after two of three candidates didn’t get enough valid signatures

By David Wildstein, April 21 2022 5:19 pm

In a decision that marks a significant change to generations of political common law, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Sheedy ruled that three candidates for Howell Township Council may retroactively combine nominating petitions to reach the minimum number of signatures to get on the ballot.

Sheedy allowed Republicans Fred Gasior and Susan Fischer, to merge their petitions with another candidate, Ian Nadel, in order to reach 50 valid signatures, citing court rulings that “election laws shall be liberally construed.”

Gasior originally submitted 50 signatures and Fischer 52; in each case, enough were determined to be invalid to push them below the required 50 signatures.  Nadel, turned in 80 and had 53 good signatories — enough to make the ballot.

All three petitions had been circulated individually, with only one candidate name on each of the petitions.

Sheedy, who appeared to read a pre-written ruling as soon as oral arguments by attorneys were completed, said that didn’t matter and allowed the three petitions to be considered jointly.

“Election laws are to be liberally construed so as to effectuate their purpose,” she said.  “They should not be construed so as to deprive voters.”

The judge’s ruling did not mention the presence of an off-the-line candidate for the Republican nomination, Michael Bernstein, or the opportunity for candidates to run as write-in candidates in the primary – or file as independents – in order to give general election voters a choice.

Sheedy asked  the municipal clerk to verify some signatures before she issues a final order on Friday.

Ballots are due to be mailed on Saturday, leaving a miniscule runway for an appeal to be filed.

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