SPRINGFIELD, NJ – The year is 1947, an off-cycle year for politics in New Jersey. On the ballot, the new state constitution, state and county level positions and two seats on the Springfield Township Committee.
On Tuesday, Nov. 4, 1947, Springfield residents went to the polls. The local candidates were Republicans Robert W. Marshall and John R. McMurray and Democrats Russel B. Stewart and Eugene F. Becker. Each pair were looking to fill the two open seats on the township committee. The three other seats were filled by Democratic committeemen George M. Turk and Francis J. Keane and Fred Brown, the lone Republican.
The changes to the New Jersey State constitution passed and Marshall won the fourth seat on the township committee with 1019 votes cast and Becker losing with 981. The future township committee was now comprised of two Republicans and two Democrats with the remaining two candidates, McMurray and Stewart, from each party tied with 985 votes each.
The Union County Clerk, Henry G. Nulton’s office determined that according to election laws the fifth seat was to remain vacant becuase of the tie. The township committee of four would be able to name a man to fill the vacancy at the January 1948 reorganization meeting to serve for 12 months until the next election, but at that time the voters must elect three instead of the usual two members.
The Rejected Ballot
The following evening, Nov. 5, The Union County Board of Elections rejected an absentee ballot received from a sailor stationed in Philadelphia. The ballot arrived in the mail the day after of the election from Petty Officer First Class Paul T. Callahan who was a Navy ROTC Instructor at the University of Pennsylvania.
The board of elections split evenly, two to two along party lines, on the questions of accepting the ballot, causing it to be rejected automatically. The sailor’s father, James Callahan, stated that he would take the case before the circuit court in an effort to compel and board to certify the ballot and count his son’s vote.
The political fate of John R. McMurray, Republican, and Russel B. Stewart, Democrat, hinged on Callahan’s vote. Callahan’s father further stated that his son had voted a straight Democratic ticket.
State Supreme Court Justice Frederic R. Colie order a recount of the Springfield ballots on Nov. 10. Colie’s order came after a request was filed by Edward O. Bauer, an Elizabeth, NJ attorney on behalf of Springfield Republicans. The recount was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on Nov. 13.
Meanwhile, Springfield Democrats were preparing to present a petition to Circuit Court Judge Frank Cleary for an order to have Petty Officer Callahan’s absentee ballot counted.
A check of the four Springfield voting machines was made at the Union County voting machine warehouse in Westfield by members of the Union County Board of Elections, as ordered by Judge Colie. After checking, it was certified the votes had been properly copied on the election return sheets by the district boards. The election results remained unaffected with McMurray and Stewart each tied with 985 votes.
A petition was filed by Stewart and a number of Springfield Democrats, who were represented by Gilhooly and Yauch of Newark, NJ. It was Stewart’s contention that Petty Officer Callahan’s absentee ballot should be counted by the board of elections.
On Nov. 12, Judge Cleary selected Dec. 8, 1947, as the date for hearing arguments on the Springfield Township Committee election of Nov. 4. The purpose of the hearing was to determine whether the Union County Board of Elections should recognize and count or reject Petty Officer Callahan’s absentee ballot received by the board the day after the election on Nov. 5.
Petty Officer Callahan was one of the first witnesses at the Dec. 8, hearing. He contended that he cast the absentee ballot at the time and in the place provided by statute and therefore it should be counted, giving Stewart the election. He further testified that he was outside of New Jersey when he mailed his absentee ballot.
Judge Cleary sustained the county board of elections action in refusing to recognize the ballot after a lengthy review of the governing statute. No serviceman’s vote can be honored if it is not in the hands of the election officials prior to the time the counting of votes took place. The envelope with the absentee ballot of Petty Office Callahan was in evidence of the court and remained sealed.
James J. Davis, Union County Board of Elections President, stated he believed that the law allowed for the envelope and its contents to be destroyed following the judge’s ruling.
The Springfield Township Committee now had two Republicans and two Democrats. The rule provided that in such instance, where competitors for the extra seat are deadlocked by, the jurisdictional Supreme Court justice shall have the authority to name the fifth committeeman. In this case it was Justice Colie of Millburn with the authority to name fifth and final committeeman.
The attorney for the Springfield Democrats, Edward J. Gilhooly of Newark, NJ, announced Dec. 18, that he would file an appeal in the Supreme Court the next Monday in the ballot dispute which placed the governance of the Township of Springfield for 1948 in a dilemma.
The Democrats would ask the upper court to review Circuit Court Judge Cleary’s decision in the case in which he refused to validate the disputed ballot cast by Petty Officer Callahan.
At the time of the first meeting of the township committee in 1948, the appeal had not been filed.
During the second week of January 1948, Stewart and Springfield Democrats decided to drop their appeal with the State Supreme Court to have the absentee ballot counted. The decision to drop the appeal was made after compromises were made during the township committee reorganization.
On Monday, Dec. 29, 1947, the future Springfield Township Committee of Brown, Marshall, Turk and Keane met for a three-hour caucus in town hall to decide on the fifth member of the committee. Besides the fifth seat being vacant, the new committee needed to appoint a new township treasurer and township attorney.
On Jan. 1, 1948, the traditional day for the Springfield Township Committee reorganization day, the township committee found Brown and Marshall, Republicans, hopelessly deadlocked over appointments with Turk and Keane, Democrats.
At the next meeting of the township committee on January 7, the four committee members stared at each other for 41 minutes before finally taking a 10-minutes recess. A compromise was reached during the recess that lasted 93 minutes.
The Springfield Township Committee broke its deadlock with the appointment of former Mayor and Republican, Wilbur M. Selander, as the fifth member. John Gunn was appointed township treasurer and Robert Darby was renamed township attorney. All votes were unanimous.
Selander had previously served on the township committee for 15 years before agreeing to return to fill the fifth seat for 12 months. Darby was a Republican who fell out favor with the local party and was supported by the Democrats as the township attorney. The Springfield G.O.P. wanted to replace Darby with Edward O. Bauer.
The Election of 1948
The election of township committee members in town normally rotates the seats up for election each year. The election of 1948 would have normally seen one seat open during the election, but due to the results of the election of 1947 two seats were up grabs.
Selander served his one year on the township committee. In the election of 1948, incumbent Committeeman Fred A. Brown and Albert Binder won the two seats allowing the Republicans to retain a 3-2 majority defeating Democrat Paul T. Callahan and Independent Democrat, Timothy J. Sheehan, after he withdrew from the Democrat Club.