McCarter & English lawyers Guillermo Artiles and Omar Bareentto recently secured a win for the Mayor of Montclair, New Jersey, regarding a contestation to the 2020 mayoral election, the first election in the state that was conducted entirely by vote-by-mail.
In accordance with Governor Murphy’s Executive Order, mail-in ballots were sent to all registered voters in Montclair for the municipal election. Pursuant to New Jersey’s Vote By Mail Law, in order for a ballot to be counted, it must have been received by the Board of Elections within 48 hours of the polls closing and must have been postmarked the day of the election.
Mayor Sean Spiller won the election by 195 votes. This win was challenged by 15 Montclair residents, including mayoral candidate Dr. Renee Baskerville, who filed suit asking Essex County officials to count and include the votes that were rejected due to timing and postmark issues as well as ballots that had were rejected for signature variance concerns.
This case established a precedent that a court will not intervene in an election unless there are clear, identifiable reasons why the court should alter the relevant statutory laws governing the canvassing of ballots, and thus could have implications in future elections in the state. This decision also demonstrates that as long as an election is held in accordance with current law, election contests involving claims that the COVID-19 pandemic created circumstances that affected voting will likely be unsuccessful.
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