MONTCLAIR, NJ - A group of residents and activists marched outside of the Montclair Municipal building on Wednesday, just before Sean Spiller, who won the Montclair mayoral race against councilor Renee Baskerville, was sworn in by Gov. Phil Murphy. Spiller won by 195 votes, yet there were 1086 votes that remain uncounted, Essex County officials confirm.
Nearly an hour before the swearing-in, the League of Women Voters and the Montclair NAACP held a peaceful rally outside of town hall to bring light to the irregularities of the vote-by-mail process. Participants displayed a string of more than a thousand pieces of paper representing the nearly 1,100 ballots that went uncounted during the May 12 vote-by-mail election.
Due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, this was the first time that the entire state of New Jersey was required to vote-by-mail. Many of the complaints from voters stemmed from signature irregularities, to residents stating that ballots were left sitting out in buildings. There were also complaints that the post office had unexpectedly closed early on election day and the day prior and then there were significant delays with the mail when the ballots arrived after the May 12 deadline. Since the postage was paid, there was no postmark or stamp to determine when the ballots were actually mailed.
According to the Essex County clerk, nearly 10% of the 10,946 votes cast in the election were disqualified, due to the aforementioned irregularities.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all New Jersey municipal elections in May were 100% vote-by-mail, and became a test case for the process.
The co-sponsor of the rally, the Montclair chapter of the League of Women Voters, the purpose of the protest was to draw attention to problems with the vote-by-mail and to request that the process be corrected.
According to published reports, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey and the NAACP New Jersey State Conference have filed a complaint in U.S. District Court on behalf of voters whose ballots did not count during the May elections.
On May 29, Baskerville and 15 plaintiffs filed in Essex County Superior Court on May 29 calling for all votes to be counted. The case is set to be heard on September 11.
Though Baskerville joined the rally on Wednesday, Elizabeth Milner, President of League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area, states that her primary concern is not in the past election, but in ensuring that such irregularities with the vote-by-mail process, are remedied for future elections.
“We need to make sure that every vote is counted going forward but we also need to encourage Governor Murphy to take executive action to give back to those who voted in the May 12th Municipal Election the most powerful weapon in our participatory democracy…every vote cast should be counted,” says Baskerville.
“When in doubt about the status of votes cast, the state of NJ must err on the side of participatory democracy and the voters,” she concluded.