And then there were municipal political party elections

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. 

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D)

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?

Comments (10)

  1. Rosi Efthim

    “ … while two Republicans determined to make America great again slugged it out with John MCann defeating Steve Lonegan.”

    This made me laugh. It’s useful sometimes to reduce these folks to their base elements. Particularly when they insist on being so basic.

    Reply
  2. Kathleen C

    The statute governing municipal party committee elections is in serious need of overhauling! I’m in a small Monmouth County community. When there was a tie for a district seat, the Dems declared they had the right to break the tie and select which candidate was the winner (which, in essence, was voting twice). Was it a surprise then when they picked the co-chair’s wife and not her challenger? When my husband and I were elected, we read the statute in advance and asked when and where the annual re-org was. There was uncomfortable silence, after which we were told, “We don’t do it that way here.” When asked how the local Dem Committee picked a chair, the reply was that the Chair and co-Chair were picked in the car while driving up to the County re-org the Tuesday after the primary. Who goes to the County re-org, we asked? “Oh, the Mayor and myself,” was the answer from the then-vice-chair. Any guess as to who the 2 people were that invariably were the Chair and Vice-Chair for over 20 years? When we pushed the issue and demanded a re-org meeting, the other committee members were outraged. “We’ve never had to do this before!” one declared, “I’m giving up cocktails at the golf club for this!” Is it any wonder the long-time chair and vice-chair railroaded us out of those positions by the end of our 2-year term? We had attempted to raise this and many more issues to the County Chair, who basically waved us off and said, “We don’t have anything to do with people at your end of the County. Mr. X and Mr. X take care of everything down there.” Small town corruption? I’m shocked! (not really)

    Reply
    1. Bill Orr (Post author)

      Like you, I’m I’m shocked! (not really).
      I suspect many other committee members throughout the state find the same or similar problems. Not only do the regulations need overhauling, but transparency and enforcement are in short supply.

      Reply
  3. Herb Tarbous

    Seems the nonsense in the Democratic Party is widespread. I learned that the Montgomery Township Dems “held” their re-org meeting last Thursday instead of Monday as prescribed by law. Additionally, here in Piscataway, at last month’s regular Dem committee meeting when inquired about attendance and the presence of a qourum I was threatened with removal from the premises.

    Reply
  4. Phil Blackwood

    In Monmouth County, Democratic County Committee results have not been posted. I called and was told someone would call back. I sent email, and did not receive a reply.

    What’s up with that?

    Reply
  5. Dan Preston

    There are rules and laws that govern County Committee elections and municipal committees, though some of the issues above may be in gray areas. They were last updated (I think) with the Party Democracy Act of 2009: http://www.bluejersey.com/2009/10/party-democracy-act-signed/ with Sen Weinberg as the prime sponsor.

    The date of the municipal re-orgs is there in the statute: The Monday following the Primary. Other provisions are scattered around Title 19 of the NJ statutes … this is a good starting point: http://www.nj.gov/state/dos-statutes-elections-19-01-09.html#ele_19_5_2

    Reply
  6. Dan Preston

    There are strict rules that govern some of the process of the election of the County committee members and the subsequent re-orgs of the County and Municipal committees. For example, the statute clearly states that the Municipal re-orgs are to be held on the Monday following the Primary Election. Other things described above may be in gray areas. The law had its last major update (I believe) via the Party Democracy Act of 2009, with prime sponsor none other than the illustrious Senator Weinberg.

    No doubt the law could use additional improvements. The power of the “line” is definitely abused. And other provisions in the law (such as the requirement that a list of *current* County Committee members must be maintained at the County Clerk’s office and be available as a public record) need greater enforcement: There seems to be no obvious penalties for ignoring them.

    BlueJersey article on Party Democracy Act of 2009:
    http://www.bluejersey.com/2009/10/party-democracy-act-signed/

    NJ Title 19 provisions relating to County and Municipal Committees (and more): http://www.nj.gov/state/dos-statutes-elections-19-01-09.html#ele_19_5_2

    Reply
  7. Chris

    This problem is not exclusive to the Democrats. I live in a small town with only 3 voting districts. Many years ago I was elected to the Republican County Committee. When I asked about a municipal Reorg, I was told there wasn’t one, the Chair remained the Chair and his wife remained Vice Chair. I had to force the municipal chair to hold a re-org meeting so I could raise concerns about candidate selection, by laws, and a few other things. Eventually we had one in Sept. Only 3 months late. Fast forward to the next election. He ran a candidate against me but I won by 1 vote. The recount that he initiated prevented me from taking my seat until after the Reorg was held. I didn’t bother to run again.

    Reply
    1. Rosi Efthim

      Awful.

      Reply

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