Morris County Clerk Ann Grossi continues to struggle with New Jersey election law and could find herself back in court before the June 5 primary.
Grossi has still not notified municipal clerks of a Superior Court Judge’s order last month that found her interpretation of signatures on a county committee petition to be illegal, according to six municipal clerks contacted by the New Jersey Globe.
With 292 county committee seats unfilled on the June 5 primary ballot, there is a likelihood of write-in candidacies in advance of a contested race for Morris GOP chairman. While municipal clerks still believe a write-in candidate for Republican county committee must receive five votes, Judge Ernest Caposela ruled in April that it is based on a formula outlined in New Jersey statutes that ranges from 1 to 10 votes, depending on the individual district.
Grossi’s latest mishap is in Dover, where her office sent out sample ballots in English and Spanish, but failed to print bilingual voting machine ballots and vote by mail (VBM) ballots. State law requires bilingual ballots when more than 10% of the voters speak another language; Dover is 69.4% Hispanic, according to the last census. New Jersey election law also requires sample ballots and voting machines to be mirror images.
Morris County Democrats are in the middle of a fight over control of the Dover Democratic Party, which they claim does not represent the diversity of the town. Democrats are running a slate of alderman and county committee candidates geared at enhancing representation by the town’s Hispanic majority.
The challenge to Democratic Municipal Chairman James Visioli is a precursor to a move to oust longtime Mayor James Dodd when he seeks re-election in 2019. Visioli is an alderman and a Dodd ally. Dodd has been helpful in the past to Republicans, including Gov. Chris Christie, State Sen. Tony Bucco, and Assemblyman Anthony Bucco.
Morris County Democratic Chairman Chip Robinson has thrown most of the Dodd/Visioli allied Democrats off the organization column and replaced them with a group of largely Hispanic candidates.
Grossi’s failure to follow the law on the printing of bilingual ballots will likely fuel claims by Democrats that Dodd and Visioli are tied to closely with Republicans in Morris County.
Democrats have the option of going to court before Tuesday’s primary and asking a Judge to force Grossi to either reprint the voting machine ballots or post some kind of notice in Spanish at the polling locations.
“It is unfortunate that the County Clerk’s office has not informed Morris County municipal clerks of the judge’s ruling. This is just another example of the County Clerk’s failure to follow and implement New Jersey election law. Without the proper information, municipal clerks could certify county committee elections incorrectly, disenfranchising potential candidates from all over the county,” said Shala Gagliardi, the Democratic candidate for County Clerk. “Given what has happened at the national level, and the number of important elections happening in Morris County this year, it is imperative that our elections be conducted fully in accordance with the letter of the law.”
Caposela ruled on on April 19 that Grossi “administered a memorandum that runs counter to the relevant state statute” in her instructions to 41 municipal clerks about the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot for county committee.
“The rules set in place by the Republican and Democratic party chairmen does not take precedence over the statutory requirements,” Caposela said in his ruling on a challenge of four Republican county committee petitions in Rockaway Township.
Caposela has allowed candidates for county committee to remain on the ballot in the June primary elections.
“While these four petitions do not meet the statutory requirements,” Caposela said. “The error was not the faulty of the prospective candidates, and this court seeks to implement open and fair elections to the best of its ability.”
Grossi did not respond to repeated requests for comment that began at 4:31 PM.