Home>Campaigns>Trial starts in challenge to Hunterdon school bond referendum

Superior Court Judge Michael O'Neill. (Photo: New Jersey Globe/Zoom).

Trial starts in challenge to Hunterdon school bond referendum

By David Wildstein, May 12 2022 5:18 pm

A challenge to a $33.4 million South Hunterdon Regional School bond referendum vote last November went to trial on Thursday, with attorneys trying to attorneys sparring over individual votes cast in a contest that was passed by just two votes.

A lawsuit filed by four of the five township committee members in West Amwell is seeking to stop the school district from moving forward on a project to build a new school in next-door Lambertville and renovate another school.

The West Amwell lawyer, Matt Moench, wants to count a vote cast by 93-year-old Julia S. Kerr that was rejected by the Hunterdon County Board of Elections because her signature didn’t match their records.

Julia Kerr died one month after the 2021 election, but her mail-in ballot was not counted because the Board of Elections didn’t think her signature matched the one on file.

This turned out to be Kerr’s last vote – she died on December 5 – and Ryan Kerr testified that voting in every election was important to his grandmother.

“What’s going on with the taxes?” Kerr said his grandmother asked him.  “She was just so adamant about her taxes going up.”  He said she worried that she could afford to pay more.

But Kerr said his grandmother was sharp enough to know who she wanted to vote for.

“She just wasn’t running no marathons or anything like that,” he said.

Superior Court Judge Michael O’Neill also heard testimony from Jane and Paul Wolkenstein, who moved from Mountain Lakes to Lambertville in August and voted by provisional ballots because their names didn’t show up on the voter rolls.

Jane Wolkenstein said she changed her address with the U.S. Postal Service after her move.  Paul Wolkenstein testified that his wife handled his change of address.

Scott Salmon, an attorney representing the school board, wants the Wolkenstein ballots counted.

But Moench said the law is clear on the responsibility of voters to properly register.

“There’s not a good faith exception,” he said. “They shouldn’t have been given provisional ballots in the first place.”

In a third challenge, Moench says one ballot ought to be invalidated because the voter colored in the bubble next to the name of their preferred candidates on the 2021 general election ballot, but then put an X over their yes vote on the referendum.

“We cannot disenfranchise voters based on technical deficiencies,” Salmon said.

Deputy Attorney General Pamela Ullman made seemingly contradictory statements.   She said her client had no interest in the outcome of the election, but then told the judge to essentially maintain the status quo and follow the original decisions of the Board of Elections.

The trial is set to resume next month, with O’Neill promising a ruling on these particular voters prior to that.

In the meantime, the South Hunterdon Regional Board of Education is watching interest rates go up amid an increasing concern that delays over the election results might mean they need to go back to the voters anyway.

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