We need changes in state law regarding municipal political party elections. The candidates are voted upon by their respective party in the primary and take office a few days later, but not without considerable confusion.
As an example, the Bergen County Primary Election went smoothly with incumbent Democratic Representative Josh Gottheimer facing no challenge while two Republicans determined to make America great again slugged it out with John MCann defeating Steve Lonegan. However, the election results of members for both the Teaneck Democratic and Republican municipal party committees, for which I was a Democratic candidate, were convoluted.
State regulations (P.L. 2013, c.259) are clear that members of a municipal committee take office on the Saturday following the Tuesday Primary and must meet on Monday to elect a suitable chair. The members of the committee “receiving the the highest number of votes shall be declared elected.” There is no mention in this particular section indicating that write-in votes for candidates should be treated differently. However, in other sections the rules are unclear on how write-in votes affect who is duly elected.
In Bergen County at least one Democratic municipal committee jumped the gun and held its meeting on Friday before the election results were known so the composition of the elected members was unclear. That did not stop the election for chair.
In Teaneck we did not get certification of the election results until late Monday afternoon, just hours before the scheduled reorganization meeting when the clerk used police officers to deliver the results to candidates. We had seen earlier the clerk’s vote tally including write-in votes. Nonetheless, there was chaos in the interim while we awaited the clerk’s certification of the results in order to know who could vote for the new chair and on other matters.
Town Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, who had his own axe to grind with a preferred candidate for chair, and is a member of the Teaneck Democratic committee, insisted in e-mails, “The write ins cannot vote period. They have not won an election. The only person that can certify an election is the clerk.” In contrast our committee’s lawyer informed us, “Any write-in candidate that receives more votes on a valid position for Municipal Committee whether by one vote or so is duly elected and can participate and vote at the reorganization committee.”
The town clerk’s final decision as to who qualified for membership was riddled with problems. He did not accept the assertion that receiving just one vote more than a competitor was sufficient, so a number of write-in candidates were disqualified. In one case where there was a tie he arbitrarily certified one of the two candidates. In other cases where there were write-in candidates, he did not explain his basis for certifying some but not others.
Fortunately, I had submitted enough petition signatures, was on the line, and was among the highest in receipt of votes so there was no question as to my membership. However, others were left in the lurch with no explanation as to why they were rejected by the Clerk. Our Democratic committee with 46 available seats (a male and female candidate for each of 23 districts) ended up with 34 duly elected members. Teaneck is a Democratic stronghold so it is no surprise that the demoralized Republican committee fared far worse with many more seats with no petition filed and only seven candidates receiving more than nine total votes.
As an important component for these committees to thrive throughout the state there should at least be clarity on who is duly elected, and the reorganization meeting held a week later to insure sufficient time to resolve any differences.
Teaneck’s State Senator Loretta Weinberg was at the meeting, expressed her indignation over the matter, and is planning to review what State regulation changes are advisable. She will be assisted by two of our committee members who are most knowledgeable about these convoluted rules. It’s not just Democrats who are not members of “an organized political party,” as Will Rogers once famously said, it is members of both parties who face disorganization because of State regulations.
What was your experience as a Municipal Party Committee member?