Challenges to nominating petitions for eight Republican county committee seats in Rockaway could impact an already heated battle for Morris County Republican Chairman, where Ronald DeFilippis and Rob Zwigard are set to face off in June.
New Jersey election law sets a complicated formula for the minimum number of petition signatures required to run for county committee, but some Morris officials insist that the county GOP organization has determined an alternative method of calculating the numbers. Local party by-laws make no mention of this.
In Rockaway, challenges to petitions for Republican county committee candidates Catherine Dachisen, Ingrid Sceusi, Sean Connolly, Mary Hollenbeck and Rockaway Republican Club president Raymond Tahan allege that none of the five filed with the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot. The challenges were filed by Vincent La Iacona III, who is running against Tahan in Ward 6, District 3.
The petitions of three other candidates – Paul Waldeck and Susanne and Joseph Jackson – are being challenged for technical deficiencies.
“County Committee is the same amount as usual with 5 required signatures for Republicans and 1 signature for Democratic candidates,” Laura Roberts, the elections manager at the Morris County Clerk’s office, wrote in an e-mail to municipal clerks last December.
The statute sets the minimum number of petition signatures required to run for county committee at no less than 5% of the total votes cast in the most recent State Assembly primary district – no less than one, but no more than ten. That means every district has a different number, and that the number might be different in an individual district depending on political party.
Roberts appears to have provided contradictory information to the municipal clerks, and that the clerks may have relied on bad advice from the county clerk’s office. The County Clerk, Republican Ann Grossi, is seeking re-election to a second term and has recused herself from election matters this year.
An election law expert confirmed that Roberts’ instructions to municipal clerks is incorrect.
County Committee petitions offer the following instructions: “Contact your Municipal Clerk for the number of signatures required or in alternate obtain at least 10.”
But officials of both parties say they were just following instructions from Roberts based on a long-standing interpretation of state ballot access laws.
In Ward 1, District 2, petitions for Dachisen, the wife of Rockaway Mayor Michael Dachisen, filed with six signatures. Based on election results from the County Clerk’s office, a total of 124 votes were cast in the 2017 Assembly primary, which means Dachisen needs seven signatures.
Joseph Bell, a former Morris County Clerk, witnessed Dachien’s petitions.
Sceusi, the wife of Superior Court Judge Louis Sceusi, a former mayor, filed with nine signatures for the Ward 6, District 2 seat. Sceusi needs ten signatures, if the statute is to be enforced. Her petition was notarized by Brenda Whitmore, who works for Roberts; it is unusual to have an independent election worker act as the Notary Public in a partisan election.
In the Ward 6, District 3 contest, La Iacona filed fourteen signatures and Tahan filed eight. The district, according to the statutory formula, requires nine signatures. La Iacona has noted that two individuals signed both petitions – which should invalidate both and reduce Tahan’s signatories to six and La Iacona’s to twelve.
Morris County Freeholder Heather Darling, an attorney, witnessed Tahan’s petitions.
Connolly, Hollenbeck and Tahan are also short of the required number of signatures, based on a literal interpretation of state law.
The acting Rockaway Township Clerk, Marcy Gianattasio, has until close of business Wednesday to rule on the challenges. Since the township attorney, Carl Perrone, a member of DeFilippis’ finance committee, is conflicted out, Gianattasio has not said which attorney will be assisting her with the review, if any.
The clerk will draw for ballot positions on Friday.
Click here to view Somerset County Clerk’s instructions on the number of signatures necessary to run for Republican and Democratic county committee.