Democrats have not won a race for Morris County Clerk since before the Civil War, but a judge’s ruling yesterday that Ann Grossi did not understand state election law has now become an issue in her bid for re-election to a second term this fall.
Chatham attorney Shala Gagliardi, the Democratic candidate for county clerk, is criticizing Grossi for her decision to follow the instructions of a former Morris County Republican Chairman on county committee petitions rather than obey the easy-to-understand statute that twenty other counties use.
“Ensuring the integrity of our election process is one of the most important duties of the County Clerk. The people of Morris County trusted our clerk to be an effective steward of our elections,” said Gagliardi.
Grossi’s mistake has already brought back a statement she made while seeking a pay raise that she is “overqualified to run” the county clerk’s office because she is an attorney.
Gagliardi says that nearly 1,000 candidates for party office filed deficient petitions because Grossi gave illegal instructions to municipal clerks and candidates. She smacked Grossi for appearing unaware of the terms of the statute.
“The people of Morris County should be concerned about the fact that a clear state statute governing our elections has been ignored under Clerk Grossi’s watch,” Gagliardi said. “This raises questions about whether any other election laws have also been neglected or overlooked.”
The Democratic challenger has repeated her call for an independent audit of election practices for the county clerk’s office. She wants the Board of Freeholders to appoint an independent attorney to fill that file.
“While Judge Caposela’s decision graciously allows this year’s candidates to remain on the ballots despite their deficient petitions, Ann Grossi’s oversight could have left nearly a thousand candidates off the ballot throughout Morris County,” Gagliardi said. “We need to avoid this problem in the future by working together to ensure that the Clerk’s office is conducting our elections to the letter of the law.”
Superior Court Judge Ernest Caposela ruled yesterday that Grossi “administered a memorandum that runs counter to the relevant state statute.”
“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.
Caposela has allowed four candidates for Republican 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 a series of phone and text messages seeking comment.