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New Jersey Superior Court Judge Estela De La Cruz. (Photo: Administrative Office of the Courts.)

Seven new votes could determine outcome of Rochelle Park race

Judge orders uncounted votes to be tallied in close November 2020 election

By David Wildstein, February 12 2021 8:54 pm

Seven new votes will be counted in a close race for Rochelle Park Township Committee, where Republican Perrin Mosca trailed one Democrat by five votes and another by four in the November 2020.

That puts off a final tally of the race until the Bergen County Board of Elections can meet to count seven ballots that could flip the outcome of the election or just as easily leave the final results as a tie that would force a special election for the governing body seats.

In December, Judge Estela De La Cruz had ordered the township not to swear in the certified winners of the election – Linda Boniface and Michael Warren – until she ruled on the election challenge.

Boniface finished with 1,544 votes and Warren with 1,543.  Mosca received 1,539 votes.

The seven paper ballots De La Cruz ordered to be counted had initially been rejected by county election officials.

“Requiring the inclusion of the seven additional ballots of these legally qualified voters reaffirms and acknowledges their clear intention to have their vote be counted, any other conclusion would require a robotic and narrow adherence to the letter of the law and would ignore these seven voters’ testimony and timely submission of their sealed ballots,” De La Cruz said in her ruling.

But De La Cruz also rejected Mosca’s challenge of 34 ballots belonging to residents at an assisted living facility.  The Republican claimed they were delivered in violation of the state’s limit on ballot bearers. The nursing home’s administrator testified last month that she delivered all 34 of the ballots.

“There is absolutely nothing in this record that. supports any conclusion of any nefarious activity,” De La Cruz said about the nursing home employees.  “Their actions in helping the residents engage in their right to vote, probably being a precious, and rare moment of excitement for the resident who had indicated that they wanted to proceed and cast their ballot, in no way supports election fraud.”

De La Cruz found that rejecting the votes of the nursing home residents would instead support a “procedural technicality, resulting in a frustration of the will of the voters generally.”

“A fair, practical, and common-sense application of the law mandates the 30 votes be counted,” De La Cruz said.  “The process of voting by mail for this election was created considering the COVID-19 health emergency and voting this way facilitates the exercise of the franchise of voters who would normally not be able to vote due to their special circumstance as residents confined to their bedroom and it’s corresponding floor at the facility.”

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