Asbury Park ballot applications wrong again
By Dan Jacobson
ASBURY PARK — For weeks, I’ve been blasting the A-Team slate for taking custody and control of hundreds of vote-by-mail/absentee ballots, with their supporters and paid operatives delivering them to voters. The voter then completes the ballot and mails it back for counting — or the A-Team delivery person can even take them back. It’s absurd.
The A-Team led by Mayoral candidate Remond Palmer is on track to deliver 500 of these ballots, known as vote-by-mail [VBM] ballots. That’s the election right there. Of course, this law was originally for invalids or shut-ins who had trouble getting their mail and wanted an absentee ballot. The A-Team is trying to drive hundreds of votes through that loophole.
I’ve consistently said they’re doing it wrong. In fact, we went down this road last year, with the Board of Elections disqualifying 250 ballots the A-Team organization delivered to voters in the 2013 election. A Judge agreed and said the applications for the ballots were flawed and the ballots can’t be counted.
The A-Team is making the same mistake on the VBM ballot applications this year. I’m serious. I’ve looked at the VBM applications last year and this year. The 500 ballots they’re expected to deliver to voters this year should not be counted. It’s clear. A Judge already made that call last year. The Board of Elections should rule the same way again this time. We’ll let you know if they do.
Congratulations A-Team: you may have disenfranchised hundreds of voters for two years in a row.
If the Board of Elections disqualifies the ballots again this year, you bet the A-Team will try to blame someone else. Don’t let them. A Judge last year told them they were doing it wrong. And they ignored him or they didn’t understand his ruling. The A-Team was on notice — they were in the courtroom when the Judge read his decision.
It gets even better.
A-Team council candidate Rosetta Johnson was on a different council slate last year that filed the successful challenge to the A-Team’s ballots. The Board of Elections agreed with Johnson and her former running mates. A Judge agreed with Johnson and her former running mates. Add me in as agreeing with Johnson and her former running mates.
Johnson understood this in 2013: Taking custody and control of hundreds of ballots the way the A-Team does it just isn’t right. That’s why she and her running mates filed their successful challenge and disqualified those A-Team ballots last year.
Here’s what the A-Team does: Their candidates and campaign officials ask voters if they’d like a VBM ballot delivered to them. They then assist the voter in filling out the VBM applications. They leave the section blank where the voter designates who will bring them a ballot. Under this blank section, the voter signs the authorization to designate that still-unnamed person.
Later, the A-Team fills in that section with the supporter or paid operative who will deliver the ballot to the voter. You can tell that because the handwriting is different, as it’s done by someone else later.
The procedural problem is this: Anyone who provides assistance to the voter in filling out the application must be listed on the application. But the A-Team is only listing the first assister who helped the voter fill out the application — they’re not listing the second person from their campaign who later designated the delivery person. That second person should be disclosed.
I was in the courtroom for last year’s proceedings. The Board of Elections disqualified about 150 of these ballots where they could tell by the handwriting that more than one person gave assistance on the application — but not everyone was disclosed as an assister on the application. That’s exactly what the A-Team is doing this year. And the Judge said the Board of Elections was right.
Why would they make such a mistake again?
I honestly don’t think they understood the implications of the Judge’s ruling. And mistakes like this happen when you’re trying to do something that’s obviously controversial under the law. This group simply cannot stay out of legal gray areas. And if they win it’s going to get them and the city in trouble — for stupid shit. Just remember I said that when it happens.
Here’s another source of confusion: the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office announced a few weeks ago that they closed their investigation into the A-Team’s delivery of these ballots in last year’s election with no charges. I think the A-Team is also interpreting that as giving them the go-ahead. It’s not.
I’ve told everyone in my public statements and private communications that this is not a criminal matter. The Prosecutor closing his investigation confirms that. This is a dispute over election law. That dispute still has not been resolved.
Here’s the legal issue: The A-Team thinks they’re doing it right — that the voter can give them permission to designate later the person who brings them a ballot. I say they’re doing it wrong. I say the voter can’t waive the requirement to designate that person. This law is to guard against fraud and coercion. And the law must be followed everywhere so fraud and coercion occur nowhere.
Plus, there’s no way the law’s intent is for a campaign organization to take custody and control of hundreds of ballots. Who ever heard of such a thing? It’s ridiculous.
That’s why the A-Team got tripped up on a procedural matter last year, and their ballots got disqualified. I say it’s pretty much impossible for them to do this right. So of course there’s going to be procedural problems.
Ironically, I disagreed with the Judge’s ruling last year. I didn’t want the A-Team to lose on a procedural mistake. I wanted the big issue of how they designate the ballot delivery person after-the-fact to be ruled on by the Judge — so we’d settle this controversy once and for all. The Judge never got that far. He barred their ballots on the procedural defect of not disclosing everyone who provided assistance on the application.
This year is different. The A-Team was on full notice about the procedural problem, which the Judge last year found serious enough to disqualify their ballots. This year they have no excuse. They were in court when the Judge gave his ruling. This year they should be held accountable for ignoring it. Enough is enough.
And that’s my problem with this group. They do shit like this. They could have easily collected hundreds of these VBM ballot applications, and then given those applications to the county clerk to mail the ballots to the voters.
That’s how it’s been done with vote by mail or absentee ballots in tens of thousands of elections for decades in this state. Instead, the A-Team insists on taking us into the gray area, causing needless conflict and controversy. Just imagine how they’d govern. We’ve already seen their chaos with the A-Team majority on the Board of Education.
Still, I’m voting for one A-Team candidate, Duanne Small, despite his association with the A-Team. I want Duanne’s voice to be on the Council, even if I don’t agree with everything he says. I also wanted him to run as an Independent. He doesn’t need the A-Team. He’d be the high vote-getter on his own.
But back to the matter at hand. The A-Team was put on notice by a Judge last year of their procedural errors. They’ve chosen to ignore him. In addition, they’re trying to use an election law loophole for something that’s almost impossible to be done right. And it’s going to be their responsibility when hundreds of ballots are disqualified.
Disenfranchisement indeed. Call it disenfranchisement by stupidity.
Editor’s note: Since publishing this column in the triCityNews, Jacobson has reviewed the transcript of the hearing where the Court ruled the ballots from the 2013 municipal election could not be counted. The transcript is posted here.
Jacobson provided the following addition to the column referencing the Court’s ruling:
I didn’t get a copy of the transcript until after my article was published so it would be helpful for the public to understand the following, which are the two parts of the Judge’s ruling that I argue are directly on point. I added the bold for emphasis:
The voters were disenfranchised themselves by either failing to read the application, or they were disenfranchised by the people who assisted them, whether that was on behalf of a candidate or a campaign, because it didn’t disclose the fact that they had utilized the services of an assistor, or assistors; those people who didn’t sign the application.
Page 26, line 9:
Now the ones where it looked like there were two handwritings, we can agree that there’s one line, but the same thing. Not that difficult it was Mr. Brophy and Mr. Kleinman who were the two people who coordinated this in the, whatever candidate’s office, to sign it. Problem solved.
So, whoever put this together simply didn’t follow the law that requires them to do X, Y, and Z, steps A, B, C, to get a ballot. Had we had those signatures, whether it’s one or two, every single one of them would have been counted on Election Day, not six months later, five months later. Election is in May.
So, somebody, somewhere along the line, in one of the candidate’s campaigns, or whether it was a group or whatever, screwed up, royally.
Dan Jacobson is the publisher of the triCityNews. This column was first published in the October 30th, 2014 edition of the paper.
Jacobson is a former New Jersey Assemblyman. He is personally responsible for the revitalization of Asbury Park and for the successful careers of Senator Jennifer Beck, Freeholder John Curley and Daily Beast Political Reporter Olivia Nuzzi.