More than a month after his victorious opponent was seated, Trenton City Council candidate Algernon Ward has filed an election contest challenging his loss, arguing that several ballots that should have been counted were incorrectly invalidated. The Superior Court trial will be held on February 15.
Ward initially lost the December 13 North Ward council runoff to Jennifer Williams by a one-vote margin, 427 votes to 426. Once Williams was certified as the winner, Ward filed for a recount; that recount found one additional vote for each candidate, keeping the end result the same.
But in a challenge filed on January 26, Ward made it clear that he does not see the race as over. The challenge asserts that three voters – referred to in the challenge as H.C., L.C., and A.M. – cast valid mail-in ballots but had their votes discarded because they failed to include the inner envelope meant to enclose the ballot.
While including the inner envelope is technically required of mail-in voters, the challenge argues that “failing to count such a voter, under applicable precedent, would be ‘too harsh a remedy’ – the wrongful disenfranchisement of a voter for technical reasons that do not further legitimate state interests.”
The remedy Ward’s challenge proposes is to count those three ballots, but there’s a catch: if only one of the ballots is ruled valid, that would mean counting it would publicly reveal that individual voter’s vote. Ward thus argues that, in such a scenario, an entirely new election should be held.
The challenge is just the latest twist in the exhausting saga of Trenton’s 2022 local elections, which have been plagued by voting machine glitches, municipal clerk errors, and an endless cascade of court cases. A long-delayed at-large runoff election last week finally elected three new councilmembers, bringing the council back to a full seven-member complement for the first time in nearly a year – but depending on the outcome of Ward’s challenge, that could soon be undone.