NEWTON, NJ—The petition to move elections from May to November was certified by the clerk and presented to the Newton Town Council at the meeting on Monday night. The petition has been circulating since April and was a point of controversy in the recent council election campaigns.
According to the town attorney, the town clerk certified “369 valid signatures of qualified voters and qualifies for placement on the ballot.”
That number was 15 percent of the number of voters in the last election, as prescribed by the Faukner act. There were 1,871 voters in the last election.
Since this petition has now been certified and brought before the council, they now have 20 days to decide a course of action, according to the attorney. The council members all agreed to not act on it immediately, tabling it until the next meeting on May 30, within the 20 day window.
According to the attorney, if the council does not act upon the petition within the 20 day period, the petition returns to the petitioning committee. They, in turn, have 10 days to decide whether to withdraw the petition or allow it to go forward to the voters. The end of these timelines is June 3.
If the petitioners choose to continue with the petition, because there was 15 percent of the total votes cast, by state law, the question will be put on the ballot in a special election.
If there had only been 10 percent of the votes cast then the question would have to wait for the next general election. Since there are 15 percent of the votes and because there is no general election within 60-90 days from the final withdrawal date, a special election would have to be held, according to the town attorney.
Some of the petitioners stood during the public portion to discuss the council’s decision not to act on it tonight.
Anwar Qarmout asked if the number of signatures on the petition was allowed to be changed to fit below the 15 percent quota. The town attorney said an entirely new petition would need to be submitted and the current one to be withdrawn if that is the route they wanted to go.
Ludmilla Mecaj spoke about how the council has the decision whether or not there is a special election, whether or not “tax payers’ money is wasted”. “Negotiate with the petitioners, not the town attorney,” said Mecaj, after the attorney gave her legal opinion on the required process set in motion by the petitioners, now that it has reached the council. “I believe I speak for the petitioners, we will not be withdrawing the petition.”
Sandra Diglio asked the town attorney if the petition was allowed to be withdrawn and they re-submitted at a later date. Once the current petition is withdrawn, it because null and void, a new petition would have to be presented and resigned, but could be submitted at a later date, closer to the 60-90 day period of when a general election will be held, as to not dismiss the need for a special election, according to the attorney.
“You [the petitioners] should be listening to the town attorney,” resident Ben Egner said. “After all this is what was told to certain people before the petition was completed, but they went ahead, thinking they were right and others were wrong, and now here we are. While I agree with the petition, the exact reason I did not sign it was because I did not want the special election.”
A few other members of the public expressed their unease with the town attorney and the council’s decision to table acting on the petition to the May 30 meeting, discussing whether they were for or against the election being moved.
Mayor Levante, while in favor of moving the election, believed that the petition should be thrown out and deemed illegal, because according to the petitioners it reads as a two part petition.
The town attorney said the petition seeks to have the date of the election changed. It does not say anything specific about when the ballot question should be put to the voters. Therefore, in the town attorney’s opinion, it cannot be deemed illegal.
On the May 30 town council meeting agenda, The petition will be placed on the May 30 town council meeting agenda as a discussion item. The council can choose not to act, according to the town attorney, in which they have until June 3 before it goes back to the petitioners.