ROXBURY, NJ – (Editor's Note: This article was updated at 5:45 p.m.) Thomas Carey, a candidate for Roxbury Township Council, was asked to leave the polling place in his ward this morning after his opponent, Roxbury Councilman Dan Kline, suggested he was subtly campaigning while people were voting, according to Kline.
The incident took place at the Kennedy School in Succasunna, the polling site for Roxbury Ward Four. Carey, a Republican, was observed talking to pupils of the school who were being shown the polling site by teachers, according to witnesses, including poll workers.
Kline, a Democrat, said Carey was telling the youngsters he was running for election and was doing so within earshot of people coming to vote. Kline said he took issue with what was happening, prompting the poll workers to ask Carey to leave the building.
Carey disputed Kline's description, asserting he was not electioneering and that he left the polling place on his own.
‘Hi, I’m Running for Town Council’
“I entered the side door at Kennedy and walked to the second table,” Kline said. “Mr. Carey was standing parallel to the poll workers at the table farthest from the side door entrance. As I was exiting the voting booth, a teacher came in with her class of students. Voters were present the entire time.”
Kline said his rival “walked up to the group of students and introduced himself by name and began lecturing them about how there was an election today, and he was a candidate … with voters present the whole time.”
Seeing Kline arrive, Carey then told the students that he and Kline were running against each other and that people were coming to vote for one or the other, according to Kline.
“I immediately told the poll workers, ‘There are voters here. He can't be doing any of this. You’ve got to report this,’” Kline said. “They told me they already had, and one of the poll workers … informed Mr. Carey he was not allowed to do that and asked him to leave.”
Kline said Carey “apologized” and he said the two candidates left simultaneously. Kline said he held the door for Carey, who was smiling.
“In the parking lot, he told me he didn't think it was electioneering because he was just talking to the kids, not voters,” Kline said. “I told him there were still voters present there, and we're not allowed to interact with anybody at the polls, and they take this pretty seriously. He apologized, we shook hands and he left. The entire incident lasted less than five minutes.”
Although candidates are permitted to hang around polling sites during elections to observe activity, they are not allowed to engage with voters or otherwise engage in “electioneering” within 100 feet of polls.
TAPinto Roxbury left voicemail and email messages for Carey early in the day. The candidate responded with an email at about 5:25 p.m., that said he was "extremely upset and disturbed" by the story and contended Kline's version of events was inaccurate.
"I was not asked to leave the school, that is a lie! I left on my own accord as I had appointments to keep," Carey wrote. "The children came into the voting area, I did "not" give my name, only that I was a candidate and helped explained the process to those children. There no other voters present as the time except for Dan Kline. I at no time solicited voters."
An Electioneering Invitation on Facebook?
A staffer at the Morris County Elections Center, who did not give his name, said he was aware of the incident. He said he was told Carey was “sitting at his own table” inside the polling place.
“I spoke to the master poll worker there,” said the man. “From what he told me, it didn’t seem like anything malicious. He’s allowed to be there. He just can’t say, ‘Vote for me,’ or anything of that nature.”
It appears Carey's decision to hang out at the polling site was not spur-of-the moment. On Monday, he posted a message on his Facebook page: “For Roxbury Ward 4 residents that vote at Kennedy School, I’ll be there in the afternoon!”
Carey’s running-mate, Republican Roxbury Councilman Richard Zoschak, said Carey did nothing wrong by merely being at the polling place, but probably should not have engaged visitors. “Each candidate is an automatic challenger,” he said. “But you have to sit there quietly.”
Zoschak also said he thought Carey's Facebook post had the tinge of electioneering.
Kline was not happy, suggesting that Carey’s actions could have subtly nudged some uncertain voters to cast their vote in Carey’s favor. He said he will decide whether to challenge the election.