Published in the Star-Ledger, Thursday, September 21, 2006
Judge to rule soon in alleged Roselle voter fraud
She'll hear closing arguments today in contested 5th Ward council race
Thursday, September 21, 2006
BY CARLY ROTHMAN
Closing arguments are expected today in the court challenge of results from the June Democratic primary for Roselle's 5th Ward borough council seat -- a contest that divided the community amid accusations of voter fraud.
Candidate Christine Dansereau alleges illegally-cast absentee ballots swept her opponent, Rosemarie Bullock, to victory. Superior Court Judge Katherine Dupuis has said she expects to rule this week.
Yesterday, Dupuis closed three days of hearings in Elizabeth by traveling to Roselle with lawyers arguing the case to hear testimony from two homebound voters.
Dansereau's backers, including Roselle Mayor Garrett Smith, say Bullock's supporters manipulated voters by encouraging them to cast absentee ballots and then provided illegal assistance with the completion and delivery of ballot-related documents.
"We're being held hostage in Roselle by Union County politicos," said Arlene Murphy, a 30-year borough resident who came to the courthouse yesterday with her husband, Richard Lenihan, in support of Dansereau. "This is the big guys against the little guys."
Bullock's supporters, who include Councilman Jamel Holley, say the election challenge is a case of sour grapes undermining voters' right to cast absentee ballots.
"It's just a shame that voters were dragged in on a case that really has no merit," Bullock's lead counsel, Allan C. Roth, said. "I think it's also a bigger shame that Mayor Smith and Christine Dansereau are attempting to disenfranchise 50 some-odd voters of their right to vote."
A change last year in New Jersey election law allows anyone to cast an absentee ballot, even if the voter is physically able to go to the polling place.
Many witnesses who testified this week said they welcomed an absentee ballot because it was more convenient. "I don't have much time. I have three jobs. This is easier for me," one man said.
Both candidates' supporters agree voters seemed confused by the absentee voting process.
One voter testified that after completing her ballot she placed it in a plain, white envelope -- not the special one designed to hold completed ballots -- and mailed it to Roselle Borough Hall, instead of the Union County Board of Elections in Elizabeth.
Then the voter said she filled out a second ballot for her brother, signed his name and sent it off to Borough Hall in another plain, white envelope.
While Dansereau's backers say Bullock's supporters capitalized on voters' confusion, Bullock supporters say any irregularities were just the product of confusion and should not negate votes.
"This is a new law that took effect last year," Holley said Tuesday night. "I understand there have been some minor procedural issues, but nothing improper was done."
To determine whether improprieties took place, lawyers for both sides have asked witnesses to explain how they cast their votes in June -- a request that proved challenging for several witnesses who said their memory of the process is foggy because they voted months ago.
One woman testified she lives in Rahway, and said she neither applied for an absentee ballot nor voted in the primary. She appeared mystified when lawyers showed her an application and other ballot-related documents with her name and purported signature.
Most witnesses testified that unfamiliar handwriting appeared on at least one of the voting-related documents bearing their names.
Anyone helping a voter to complete documents relating to the absentee ballot must identify himself or herself in writing on the documents and sign them in front of the voter, according to New Jersey statutes.
Many witnesses also said their ballots were either mailed or hand-delivered by someone else without that person signing the envelope in front of the voter, as required by law.
Carly Rothman may be reached at email@example.com or (908) 302-1504.
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.