Democrats haven’t won a race for Morris County Clerk since the 1800’s, but some party leaders think the kerfuffle over county committee petitions could emerge as a real campaign issue as Republican Ann Grossi seeks re-election to a second term this fall.
Challenges to several county committee petitions that could impact a nasty fight for Republican county chairman has left the county clerk’s office defending an unusual policy that allows political parties – not state election law – to determine how many signatures a candidate for party office needs to get their name on the ballot. Morris is the only county in New Jersey to do this.
The system of allowing political parties to determine the number of petition signatures goes back to 1994. This is the third county committee election since Grossi took office.
Grossi has recused herself from election matters in 2018 because she is a candidate, but scrutiny over her office’s handling of the petition issue is already being raised by her Democratic opponent, Shala Gagliardi.
“The fact that a clear state statute governing the very first step in the yearly election process has gone unheeded for Clerk Grossi’s entire tenure is unnerving, particular as she is an attorney herself,” Gagliardi said.
Gagliardi is calling on the Board of Freeholders to appoint an independent attorney to audit of the Clerk’s office to determine whether any other election laws have been “ignored, misinterpreted, overlooked or unenforced.” She says that the State Assembly also has the power to investigate.
“Americans of all political stripes are justifiably concerned about the integrity of our elections process,” said Gagliardi, a Chatham attorney who is making her first bid for public office. “Mistakes like this have the potential to leave countless candidates for office off the ballot through no fault of their own, and irreversibly distort the choices presented to voters in this year’s election.”
A Democratic press release said that over a thousand candidates running for county committee could be affected by the alleged error in interpreting state election law. The Rockaway Township municipal clerk has until tomorrow to rule on the petition challenge, which could wind up in Superior Court quickly since ballot positions will be drawn on Friday.
The Morris County Freeholder Board has the power to appoint an independent attorney to audit practices within county departments, including the Clerk’s Office. The New Jersey Attorney General also has the power to conduct an investigation.
“The buck always stops at the top, and Clerk Grossi must take responsibility for this mistake,” said Gagliardi. “Both Democrats and Republicans may be affected; if there is one thing we can all agree on, it’s that our elections must be free, fair, transparent and conducted fully in accordance with the letter of the law.”
Grossi did not respond to requests for comment. Her spokesman, John Wojtaszek, says that the county clerk will not discuss election issues in an election year.