[Image via mhpbooks]
Election Day typically centers on polling places and election offices across the nation – but in New Jersey, it’s also a busy day for special courts set up to hear last-minute requests from voters who wish to cast ballots. The Two River Times has more:
On Tuesday, new American citizen Eniko Piantanida pleaded her case – saying she had registered to vote by mail, sending the materials in to the state Division of Election days in advance of the Oct. 18 deadline.
But state Deputy Attorney General Alan Blanstein said the division did not receive Piantanida’s paperwork until Oct. 21, three days after the cutoff to be registered for the Nov. 8 General Election. State Superior Court Judge Kathleen A. Sheedy – sitting in a makeshift courtroom at the Monmouth County Special Services Complex in Freehold Township – listened and asked some questions.
Sheedy was one of several judges working three- or four-hour shifts at the Special Services Complex, where the county’s three elections offices are based. This was the regular Election Day Court, and this year it was busier than usual because of the presidential election.
While making deliveries for work at a Long Branch office, Piantanida handed her registration papers to a postal carrier delivering mail to the office, she told the judge. It saved her a trip to a mailbox.
“One-stop shopping, how nice,” said Piantanida, 46.
But, apparently, the delivery of her voter registration paperwork got delayed in the mail.
“I’m going to allow you to vote,” Sheedy told Piantanida, who lives in Tinton Falls. “I do find your testimony credible.”
Outside of the courtroom, Piantanida said she grew up in rights-repressed Hungary. She came to the United States in the early 1990s and finally became an American citizen in April, the month before her husband died.
When asked how she felt about being able to vote, Piantanida said, “Excited, I guess. A lot of mixed emotions. I feel like I’m voting for my husband and myself.”
A trip to court is an alternative to a provisional ballot for voters who believe their name has been left off the rolls in error:
Voters have two ways to deal with being turned away from a voting machine at the polls. They can request a provisional, or paper, ballot or go in front of one of the Superior Court judges specially assigned to Election Day, when the courthouse in downtown Freehold is closed.
The judges set up in the Special Services Complex where space is available, perhaps in a conference room or, as was the case in recent years, in a closet.
Judge Sheedy came on duty at 1 p.m. and got a case about 15 minutes later, before she put her judicial robe on.
“Just give me one second to get dressed,” she said, before starting the proceeding.
While it is un-courtroom-like, it is a very official court. There is a judge in a robe, court staff, and a Sheriff’s officer providing security; the case is recorded, members of the state Attorney General’s office represent the county election offices, with lawyers from the Democrat and Republican parties monitoring – and sometimes commenting on – the cases. Also, all the pertinent election files are nearby in the three election offices: Board of Elections, Clerk of Elections, and Superintendent of Elections/Commissioner of Registration.
Cases run the gamut from silly to sad:
Some of the cases are borderline ridiculous – a person admittedly not registered to vote who wants to now vote at the last minute. But some cases are emotionally charged, according to election officials, like a man seeking a walk-in ballot for his wife, who was dying of cancer and likely voting for the last time.
Jon Farber, 39, of Middletown and his wife, Melissa had registered to vote at the state Motor Vehicle Commission, when he had made an address change on his driver’s license, he said.
“When sample ballots came out, my wife got hers, I didn’t get mine,” Farber told Judge Angela White Dalton. Deputy Attorney General Rebecca Karol did not object to his request. The judge ruled in in Farber’s favor.
“I’m satisfied you made an effort and it was just an oversight,” Dalton said in her ruling. “I will grant you the ability to vote today.”
Farber, speaking outside the courtroom after the ruling, called his court appearance a “pretty painless” process.
Dalton also granted Sandra Wiley of Tinton Falls the right to vote. Wiley moved from Jackson in Ocean County to Tinton Falls in April and sent in her voter registration materials, but was not in the voting records, according to testimony.
“Welcome to Monmouth County,” Dalton said in granting Wiley the right to vote.
Wiley declined comment afterward.
The court is also able to intervene when voters make mistakes:
In a case before Judge Dennis R. O’Brien, Board of Elections Commissioner Allan Roth sought permission to accept a walk-in ballot from a man – not identified publicly in court – who was in the hospital. The issue was the man had reversed his voting envelopes, placing the outside one inside and the inside one outside.
Sherry Ramsey, a Democrat Party lawyer, was the courier of the man’s ballot.
“We stepped back so he could have his privacy to vote,” testified Ramsey, explaining how the mistake was not discovered until the envelopes were sealed.
O’Brien approved the vote, saying the chain of custody over the transporting of the vote was maintained.
But not everyone is successful:
O’Brien denied Yuk Wong, 44, of Hazlet from voting.
Wong testified she had filled out a voter registration form and given it to an acquaintance. Then, she said, she went to vote and her name was not in the books at the poll.
“I want to vote,” said Wong, a Hong Kong immigrant who became an American citizen in 2014. “I truly believe I’m already registered. Today, I went to the voting booths. My name was not there.”
“You’re not registered,” O’Brien told Wong. “It’s not that we don’t want you to vote.”
These courts may seem like an unnecessary step given the availability of a provisional ballot, but for voters willing to make the trip and plead their case, it can mean the chance to cast a valid ballot without waiting for verification. I’ll be curious to see how many voters make the trip – and how many of those are actually successful – but regardless “election court” sounds like another exciting place to be on Election Day.
Stay tuned …