A Manchester voter who signed a postal ballot in Manchester’s non-partisan municipal election on December 13 will not be counted, Supreme Court Justice Craig Wellerson ruled after a brief court hearing today.
Voting along party lines, the Ocean County Board of Elections is deadlocked on whether to count the votes. New Jersey state election law requires judges to act as deciders.
A single vote does not affect the outcome of an election, but in an effort to prevent disenfranchisement of a voter, whose name has not been released by the New Jersey Globe to protect the confidentiality of the ballot, election law attorney Matt Mench, who represents Mayor-elect Robert Aras, asked Wellerson to count the ballots.
Monch pointed to a 2021 appeals court decision he argued in a South Toms River case that upheld a trial judge’s ruling that two old friends living together, a World War II veteran in his 90s and a man in his 80s , will have their votes counted in November 2020, even if they signed their ballots. This led to a tie and new elections in 2022.
Ocean County Democratic Party Chairman Wyatt Earp, one of the Board of Elections’ commissioners, said allowing signed ballots creates a “slippery slope.”
Earp gave an example.
“I am an elected official. I have people that work at my town hall and they better all go ahead and sign the ballots and I better be able to go and look and see that, you know, all my staff voted for me and their names are on that ballot Earp told the judge.
“I’m satisfied at this stage that the statute prohibits third-party markings on ballots for the very good reason that we want to preserve the secrecy of the voting process, that we want to make sure that there is no retaliation against people and the easiest way is to identify the ballots by signature,” — Wellerson said. “The Court finds that the Legislature was well aware when it enacted the statute that ballots would be invalid if they contained distinctive marks. That the signature is certainly a distinguishing mark which the voter can recognize to the exclusion of all others.’