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Dover Democratic Municipal Chairman Edward Correa. (Photo: Nikita Biryukov for the New Jersey Globe).

Judge: Morris Clerk can leave Dover ballots as they are

Grossi’s English-only ballots in Dover upheld

By Nikita Biryukov, June 01 2018 7:09 pm

A Morris County Judge ruled on Friday that embattled Morris County Clerk Ann Grossi does not have to reprint bilingual ballots for 24 voting machines in Dover.

Assignment Judge Stuart Minkowitz declined to grant the injunction sought by Dover Democratic county committee candidate Edward Correa, saying he would be directly contradicting the stated legislative intent of state election law.Title 19, the statute that governs the state’s election law, states that in municipalities where Spanish is the primary language of more than 10% of registered voters sample ballots must be printed in both English and Spanish.

Scott Salmon, Correa’s attorney, argues that because the law also states that “the official general election sample ballots shall be as nearly as possible facsimiles of the official general election ballot” the ballots actually used in voting machines should also be bilingual.

Though he said he considered the argument a novel one, it didn’t hold water with Minkowitz, who said that the intent of the legislation was made clear by the inclusion of the word “sample.”

“I’m disappointed in the court’s ruling. I thought in his decision he missed a big part of the case, which is whether or not they should have, they did print the ballot in Spanish, and the official ballot should have reflected that,” Salmon said. “We haven’t decided whether or not we’ll appeal. We’ll know soon.”

Any such appeal would have to come quickly. With voting on Tuesday and courts closed for the weekend, there’s precious little time for any corrective action to be taken, should a higher court reverse the ruling.

Even on Friday, there was little time for any corrective action. While parties conceded that machines could be supplied with new ballots in time for Tuesday’s election, such a process would be highly disruptive and would require election workers to work through the weekend.

“It would be chaotic, at best, to get this done,” said Deputy Attorney General George Cohen, who joined the hearing by phone to help delineate the views of the state’s elections board.

Other Arguments made by Salmon, and by Rajiv Parikh, who joined on as a plaintiff representing the Democratic State Committee, claimed that Dover’s ballots had to be bilingual because of provisions in the Voting Rights Act, but the judge ruled that because the director of the census had not designated Morris County as a special jurisdiction as required by the act, those regulations did not apply.

Despite his ruling, the judge did say that he had some concerns about confusion over the town’s mail-in ballots. Those ballots, which were only distributed in English, had their orientation flipped, with candidates for a position listed horizontally instead of vertically.

This is the case because these ballots are read by a different machine than those filled out in person.

Minkowitz worried that the ballots could cause confusion among non-English-speaking voters, but he said his hands were tied, as he couldn’t issue much relief without disenfranchising voters who had already mailed in their ballots.

“The judge applied the appropriate law. There was never a basis for the lawsuit. The clerk did everything right, even with the mail in-ballots.” said John Carbone, who represented the Morris County Clerk’s office.

“That’s what the law is. If they don’t like the law, they can go to the Democratic governor, the Democratic assembly and the Democratic senate and get it changed for the Democrats and the Republicans. It’s unfortunate, but that’s what the law is.”

The ruling is at least a better outcome for Grossi than her last election law ruling, when Passaic County Assignment Judge Ernest Caposela ruled the Morris County Clerk’s policy of allowing political parties to set the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot for county committee seats was illegal.

Grossi, who has recused herself from election matters this year, has seen that defeat become a rallying cry for her Democratic opponent.

Friday’s ruling will still add fuel to that fire.  Today’s challenge was really a small piece in a fight between Morris County Democrats for control of the Dover Democratic Committee.

Some of the Democrats argue that the committee does not represent the diversity of Dover. They’re running a slate of alderman and county committee candidates to move the representation in line with the town’s Hispanic majority.

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