A Superior Court judge rejected an election challenge in Trenton’s North Ward today, at last bringing a monthslong saga to an end and allowing Councilwoman Jennifer Williams to keep the seat she won by one vote.
“I can’t wait to get back to work for the people of the North Ward,” Williams said after the hearing had concluded. “I’ve enjoyed being their councilperson so far, we’ve gotten a lot accomplished already, and I’m so excited to finish out these next two years and do even more… It’s a great day for Trenton, and it’s a great day for the North Ward.”
Her opponent, Algernon Ward, conceded the race but said he’ll be back to challenge her in 2024.
“From this moment forward, I’ll continue to work for the people of the North Ward,” Ward said. “I hope Jennifer is open to the idea that I do represent half of the people that voted in this election.”
At issue in the hearing today were five rejected ballots, four of which were challenged by Ward and a fifth which was challenged by Williams.
Three of the ballots Ward contested were rejected for the exact same reason: they were mail-in ballots that were returned without the required inner envelope. Ward’s counsel argued that votes should not be discounted due to technical errors, but Judge William Anklowitz disagreed, saying that the inner envelopes are clearly required by law and that voter security is compromised without them.
“The board properly rejected these [ballots],” Anklowitz said. “There’s no way to be able to say that this voter made that ballot. There’s too much left open to figure out or have to guess at.”
The other rejection Ward challenged was a more complicated case involving a cure letter that a voter sent to the wrong place. The letter was received by the Superintendent of Elections when it should have been sent to the Board of Elections, and by the time it arrived at the proper location, it was too late for it to be added to the tally. Anklowitz determined that the voter’s mistake was a minor one and that their vote should have been counted.
Finally, one rejected ballot was contested by Williams; the ballot featured votes for both candidates but had a slash through the vote for Ward, which Williams said made the voter’s intent clear. Anklowitz agreed and ruled that the ballot should be counted, thus giving Williams an insurmountable two-vote lead and nullifying Ward’s challenge.
“Clearly, this voter meant to vote for Williams, and crossed out Ward,” Anklowitz said. “I don’t see any other way to read it. It’s just abundantly clear.”
It’s now been more than four months since the initial November election for Trenton’s North Ward, which (after significant delays in ballot counting due to a voting machine glitch) resulted in a runoff between Williams and Ward, with two other candidates eliminated.
That runoff was held on December 13, and once all ballots were counted – a process that wasn’t completed until December 29 – Williams emerged victorious by one vote, 427 to 426.
Ward successfully asked for a recount, but it didn’t change the outcome, adding one vote to each candidate’s total and leaving Williams in the lead. Ward then filed the election challenge that was heard today; in the meantime, Williams took her seat on the council on January 1, becoming New Jersey’s first openly transgender municipal elected official.
With three other candidates winning at-large seats in a long-delayed January 24 runoff, the Trenton City Council now at last has a full complement of seven members not in imminent danger of getting thrown out – at least until the four ward-based councilmembers come up for election again in 2024.