“We have to make sure every ballot that should be counted is counted”, Dr. Renee Baskerville said, following the release of the official results of the Montclair Municipal elections that took place on May 12 by mail.
Baskerville, joined by 15 Montclair residents, filed a complaint in Superior Court of New Jersey on May 29 that calls into question holding the May 12 election at all during the the coronavirus pandemic and asks to “have the votes of every Montclairion who cast a timely ballot, fairly counted.”
Residents who join Baskerville as plaintiffs maintain that their ballots, postmarked by Election Day, May 12, were rejected.
Defendants in the complaint are Tasha Way, Secretary of State of New Jersey; Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin; Linda Von Nesi of the Essex County Clerk’s office; and Juliette Lee, Clerk of the Township of Montclair.
Baskerville cites a letter to Secretary of State Way, asking her to urge the Governor to
reconsider forcing the May election to proceed because it would “surely have a suppressive
impact on voters in transitional housing, limited English-proficient voters, voters who did not vote
in the previous recent years, voters of color, those of lower socio-cconomic status, and others.”
Baskerville says Way did not respond.
Plaintiffs are seeking to “have the votes of every Montclairion who cast a timely ballot, fairly counted. In the extraordinary circumstances of these times, that means not adhering to the general rule that the return dates for ballots and other post balloting deadlines be strictly enforced, but rather that they are applied in a manner that will not deny otherwise valid mail-in ballots from being counted.”
Baskerville’s opponent Sean Spiller won the mayoral seat by 195 votes. Voter turnout by mail for the May 12 election was 10,946 of Montclair’s 30,093 registered voters.
The complaint raises concerns about the Montclair Glenridge Avenue post office closing four hours early on Monday, May 11, due to staffing issues and how that may have impacted voters ability to get their ballots postmarked by the deadline.
Baskerville and fellow plaintiffs also seek to prohibit the swearing in of the “proclaimed victors” of the May 12 Montclair Municipal Election, “pending a determination of the legality of the actions giving rise to this case.”
There were 674 votes not counted due to late postmarks, no postmark or being received after the May 14 deadline. Essex County clerk records show that 60 of those 674 votes were postmarked by May 12 but received by the county after the May 14 deadline. Fifty-six of those votes were received on May 15, two on May 18, and one each on May 20 and May 26.
Gov. Phil Murphy recently changed the deadline from 48 hours to seven days for ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted.