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Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz. Photo: New Jersey League of Municipalities.

Perth Amboy worries that December 8 runoff might not work

Still no word if runoff will be VBM or in-person voting

By David Wildstein, September 11 2020 12:29 pm

Ballots for the closely-watched mayoral race in Perth Amboy are set to be mailed next month, but there’s still no decision on when the runoff will be held.

Right now, the runoff is set for December 8 unless one contender breaks 50% in a six-candidate field.

Gov. Phil Murphy said last month that if Perth Amboy does need a runoff, he thinks there would be enough time to still hold the runoff on time.

But now, some election officials and even some of Murphy’s own appointees acknowledge that a runoff four weeks after an election run almost entirely through vote-by-mail ballots may be  unrealistic.

Murphy’s executive order on the 2020 general election did not take the Perth Amboy runoff into consideration.

Some candidates have privately expressed a view that the rules of the runoff need to be finalized before voting starts.

In the absence of a supplemental order from the governor, election officials told the New Jersey Globe that they would have to treat the December 8 runoff as a regular election.

That would mean in-person voting.

While every eligible Perth Amboy voter will receive a mail-in ballot for the November 3 non-partisan election, only permanent VBM voters and those who specifically requested to vote by mail in the runoff would receive ballots.

Murphy’s executive order requires the general election to be certified by November 20 – two weeks after the election.

Even if there are no delays, the window to run a special election would be tight.

Election officials say they would need to hold a ballot drawing, print ballots, prepare machines, mail sample ballots, and confirm polling locations and board workers.

The 18-day runoff – with the Thanksgiving Holiday occurring in the same time period — would be between the top two vote-getters in the race for mayor.  Local officials also expect a runoff for two city council seats.

Incumbent Wilda Diaz is seeking re-election to her fourth term.

Three of the five members of the Perth Amboy City Council are running against Diaz: Helmin Caba, the Democratic municipal chairman; Fernando Irizarry, and Joel Pabon, Sr.

Joseph B. Vas, an attorney whose father served as mayor from 1990 until losing to Diaz in 2008, is also in the race, along with 31-year-old political newcomer Justin Maldonado.

The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission told the Globe that candidates are not permitted to raise runoff money until the election results are certified.

That means a candidate can either reserve some campaign cash in the event they make the runoff, or raise money from new donors.

They can’t go back to maxed out general election contributors and ask for more money.  That’s different than partisan candidates, who can raise – but not spend – general election money during the primary.

Murphy could theoretically move the runoff to a later date, but he’ll be working with another bookend deadline: the terms of Diaz and the two council seats expire on January 1.  So Murphy would need to include enough time for ballots to arrive – the post office gets busy over Christmas – and for defective ballots to be cured.

The entire calendar is potentially flawed since federal law requires military ballots to mailed 45 days in advance of Election Day.  That would mean runoff ballots would need to go out on October 24 – more than a week before the election.

Perth Amboy has at least three military voters who cast overseas ballots, records show.

The military ballot issue, and other challenges to a timetable that calls for runoffs four weeks after the general election, could also affect potential December 2021 runoffs in Jersey City, Hoboken and Hillside.

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