NJ courts to order August primary in Howell or allow candidates to merge petitions after signing
In a case that could dramatically change the way candidates run for office in New Jersey, a challenge to the nomination petitions of three Republican candidates for council in Howell Township is progressing even though they have already won the primary election on 7 June.
An appeal of Superior Court Judge Kathleen Sheedy’s decision in April allowing Fred Gasior and Susan Fischer on the ballot opens the door to the court invalidating the primary election results and ordering a new election, if the court does. State’s appeal finds that she misread the statute.
But if Sheedy’s decision is upheld, it will essentially nullify requirements that candidates obtain a minimum number of petition signatures in order for their names to appear on the ballot.
The issue involves the merging of three separate nomination petitions into one joint petition after they were circulated to allow Gasior and Fischer, who did not get enough signatures on their own, to get elected.
“By misapplying clear legal requirements, the lower court’s decision fundamentally changed our state’s nomination petition process and created a fraud and misrepresentation mechanism that must be rectified,” wrote David Minchello of Rainone Coughlin Minchello. in his brief to the court on Friday.
Hany A. Mawla, a state appeals court judge, inexplicably declined to expedite the appeal in April, instead postponing the legal challenge until after primary elections had already taken place. Mawla initially suspended Sheedy’s decision.
Several elected officials considered the Mawla’s decision to be far-fetched.
The three candidates backed by the local Republican organization circulated separate nomination petitions, but only one, Ian Nadel, got the 50 signatures required to appear on the ballot. But two others, Gasior and Fischer, were certified with 49 and 43, respectively.
But township clerk Allison Ciranni allowed Gasior and Fischer to merge their petitions with Nadel, even though the signatories had not agreed to support them.
Minchello said Ciranni’s decision “will pave the way for the erasure of legislative safeguards to place people on ballots and allow government actors to disregard the voices of petition signatories.”
“Despite clear evidence that the petitions were separate and distinct, the clerk unlawfully combined them on the pretext that they had been filed together at the same time by the chairman of the Republican party of Howell Township,” Minchello said in his brief. “According to the Clerk’s logic, if a Republican voter supports a Republican candidate, they support all Republican candidates.”
The caller says Sheedy’s decision “overturns decades of election law.”
“It opens the door to potential fraud and misrepresentation,” Minchello said in his memoir. “Based on this decision, candidates who have not obtained the number of signatures required by law can nevertheless group together post hoc to be included in ballots to which they do not belong.”
Fischer (2,685), Nadel (2,608) and Gasior (2,434) beat Michael Bernstein (951) in the June 7 Republican primary.
“The nomination petition process for primary elections has been described as the pivotal event in a party’s process. Our electoral laws allow voters to participate in our representative democracy by giving them a key role in this pivotal event,” Minchello said in his court filing. “Voters show their support for candidates for a particular office by endorsing each of them through a signed nomination petition. The system guarantees accountability and protects against fraud and abuse.
The briefing schedule ends on July 21 and it is unclear whether the appeals court will want to hear oral arguments.
If the appeals court rules for Hughes, the results of last week’s primary could be invalidated and a new primary ordered.
Mawla and another appellate judge, Michael J. Haas, will have very little time to issue a decision, even if they leave no window for an appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
A new primary should be scheduled by the end of August so that the results can be certified – not counting the time for a recount or legal challenges to this race – in time to start sending out general election ballots on 24 september. Election officials are estimated to need five weeks to prepare for a redesign primary, including the printing and mailing of mail-in ballots and three days of early voting.
The new primary, if there is one, would have just two names on the ballot for three seats – Nadel and Bernstein. Nadel would run without the advantage of the Monmouth GOP organizing line. Fischer and Gasior would need to mount written campaigns, like any other potential candidate.
The appeal was filed by John Hughes, a Democrat from Howell.
In his court filing, Minchello argues that Ciranni “had no reason to assume or guess that the signers of the various petitions must have intended to support each Republican candidate”, and that Sheedy was wrong in concluding that the clerk had the discretion to do so. then.
Three Democrats issuing an offline challenge for Union County Commissioner have decided not to appeal Superior Court Judge Alan Lesnewich’s ruling that kicked them out of the primary ballot because they ran out of three signatures of the 100 needed to qualify, the New Jersey Globe has learned.