SPARTA, NJ- Coronavirus has even inserted confusion into the local election process. Two candidates for township council found, with only days until the deadline, their petitions were rejected by the township clerk. The other two candidates also had their petitions rejected the week prior.
On Wednesday morning hopeful candidates Bill Greenlaw and Dean Blumetti brought “about 200” petitions to the office of Kate Chambers to secure their spots on the November ballot. Chambers told them they had used an unacceptable form to collect signatures. The form they turned in was for a “Title 14” election while Sparta requires a “Title 40” form.
The other two candidates for Sparta Township Council, Sussex County Freeholder Josh Hertzberg and Deputy Mayor Christine Quinn had been told the same thing a week prior.
The confusion came when the potential candidates were sent an email by Chambers that contained links to state approved forms. Chambers said she had received the state’s email and “just forwarded it, so there would not be confusion.”
Typically candidates would have gone into the municipal building to pick up packets of printed petitions from the municipal clerk’s office. This year, with COVID-19 causing closures and encouraging business to be done remotely, the candidates simply used the links sent to them by Chambers.
Chambers had also sent all four candidates the correct forms electronically. Sparta is a Faulkner town, following different processes than those set in the link from the state.
Greenlaw and Blumetti, Hertzberg and Quinn had used forms that had two candidates’ names on at the top of the page, downloaded from the link from the state email. The required “Faulkner” form only has one candidate’s name listed on each form.
Hertzberg and Quinn started out using the Title 40-Faulkner Act petition but when she found the link to the petition with both candidate’s names Quinn thought they should use that form. She said she thought they were “new forms that they had to use because of COVID…which makes sense for candidates not to have to go to the same people twice,” reducing potential exposure.
Chambers said the correct petition for a Faulkner Act- Title 40 municipality requires signatures of 1% of the registered voters while the dual candidate petition would have required 2%. Sparta has just over 15,000 registered voters according to 2020 primary election publications.
The prospective candidates said they were determined to start over to secure the needed signatures because the people that signed their faulty petition, did so in good faith to express they wanted the candidates to be on the ballot.
On Wednesday, Greenlaw and Blumetti spoke with an attorney about the problem. They discussed going to court to get an order to show cause. They were advised their case was not yet “ripe,” because they still had time, five days, to remedy the deficiency.
Greenlaw and Blumetti along with friends and supporters to perform the herculean task of getting 150 signatures in a few days during the pandemic when there are not large events or large crowds. They were outside the Sparta library and even went to the rescheduled Summer Arts concert on Sunday.
Quinn said they also had to work hard to get a second round of petitions signed.
“Usually you would have a ‘Meet the Candidates Night’ and get it just about done in one night,” Quinn said. “It took a while to get them all done.”
Greenlaw said he and Blumetti would be turning in their petitions Monday morning.