Passaic County Republicans have gone to federal court in a bid to challenge the removal of their candidate for sheriff, Troy Oswald, challenging the constitutionality of a state law requiring candidates to have lived in the county for three years.
County Clerk Danielle Ireland-Imhof rejected Oswald’s petitions because he didn’t register to vote in Passaic County until January and maintained residences in Morris and Sussex counties for more than two decades.
U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Cox Arleo ordered the county clerk to halt the printing of the ballots until Wednesday
Oswald’s attorney, Matthew Moench, argues that since sheriff is a constitutional officer and the State Constitution does not include a residency requirement – there is one for state legislators and the governor — the Legislature lacked the authority to add the restriction.
“It is clear that if the drafters of the Constitution had wanted to include a residency requirement for the constitutional officers, such as sheriff, they very well could have,” Moench said in a brief filed with the court. “No such requirements were proscribed and thus, the Legislature cannot add any such provisions without amending the Constitution.”
Moench called the residency requirement a “significant intrusion into the voter’s freedom of choice” and says the law should be struck down under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“(Sheriff) is the only office in the state which requires an extended intrastate residency restriction and the state cannot offer a valid government interest for treating the office of sheriff different than every other county, state, and local office,” he stated. “The government interests at issue in residency requirements are no more important for sheriff than state senator, or county commissioner.”
Moench noted that the three-year residency law for sheriff candidates “is the longest residency requirement of any elected office in the state.”
He pointed to a 1980 law that created a uniform one-year residency requirement for local office to provide a suitable balance between state interests and “ensuring the elected officials are sufficiently connected to the constituencies they wish to serve.”
Ireland-Imhof is not taking a position on the constitutionality of the residency statute, her attorney, County Counsel Matthew Jordan, said in court papers.
Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin is opposing Oswald’s lawsuit, saying that Republicans waited too long to file and that delays would prevent election officials from printing and mailing ballots.
“It would also undermine the public’s confidence and trust in the fairness of the rules governing elections themselves,” wrote deputy Attorney General Dominic Diova, who argued that the “three-year residency mandate is ‘reasonably and suitably tailored to further’ the state’s interest in ensuring a deep familiarity between such candidates and the residents they so profoundly impact.”
Jordan said that there is no irreparable harm to the rejection of Oswald’s petitions, since Republicans will have the chance to nominate a candidate in the June 7 primary through a write-in campaign,
Oswald, the former Paterson police, chief, wants to take on four-term Sheriff Richard Berdnik.