Published in the Star-Ledger, Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Judge upends council result in Roselle primary
Dansereau declared winner over Bullock as 31 absentee votes are tossed
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
BY CARLY ROTHMAN
A Superior Court judge yesterday invalidated 31 absentee ballots from the June Democratic primary election in Roselle and declared a new winner.
The overturned results of the primary passed the 5th Ward borough council nomination from Rosemarie Bullock to Christine Dansereau.
Bullock was declared the top vote-getter in June by 285 to 265. Absentee ballots comprised 61 of the votes cast in that election, 54 of which went to Bullock and seven to Dansereau.
By invalidating the 31 absentee ballots, Superior Court Judge Katherine Dupuis named Dansereau the new winner by a final count of 265 to 261.
"I absolutely knew we were going to be victorious," Dansereau said. "The integrity of the absentee ballot needs to be upheld."
Bullock plans to appeal Dupuis' decision on an emergent basis, said her lead attorney Allan C. Roth. He will file a stay of the printing of the ballots for the general election, he added.
Dansereau supporters, including Roselle Mayor Garrett Smith and Democratic 2nd Ward borough council nominee Sylvia Turnage, have argued Bullock campaign workers encouraged voters to use absentee ballots and then illegally assisted voters in the completion and delivery of documents relating to their ballots.
A new law allowed voters in the June primary to vote by absentee ballot even if they could have voted at the polls.
Dupuis said she invalidated most of the 31 votes because a person other than the voter had mailed or delivered the ballots but had not signed the envelope containing the ballots.
She also noted several instances in which voters testified someone else had completed their ballots.
Anyone assisting a voter by mailing or hand-delivering his or her absentee ballot is required by law to sign the envelope containing the ballot in the voter's presence.
"(This is) not a mere technical requirement but one that goes to the integrity of the ballot," Dupuis said, explaining the signatures are required in order to document the chain of custody of a voter's ballot and help protect the ballot from tampering.
"I'm convinced that this is a case where the intent of the Legislature was to protect against fraud or the possibility of fraud," she continued, saying the possibility of fraud existed in the June primary election without asserting fraud was actually committed.
Dupuis noted that Bullock supporter Councilman Jamel C. Holley was responsible for hand-delivering many of the absentee ballots to the Union County Board of Elections, but failed to sign the envelopes in the presence of the voter.
"I disagree that she would invalidate someone's vote based on minor procedural issues," Holley said by phone.
Roth raised concerns over the way the judge calculated the new vote tally and said these concerns would form the basis of their appeal. "I'm surprised that the judge would try to preserve the system rather than the validity of a person's vote," he said.
Bullock declined to comment after hearing the decision, exiting the courtroom quickly with her husband, Lloyd.
Dansereau and about a dozen of her supporters were present in the courtroom yesterday.
"We're happy with the decision," Mayor Smith said.
"This is one giant step for Roselle, one small step for Union County," said Richard Lenihan, a Roselle resident and Dansereau supporter.
Roselle Councilwoman Sally Samuels was among the onlookers during a few days of the week-long trial.
"Because I'm a stakeholder in Roselle, I'm a voter, it concerns me that we could have had fraud in this election," she said yesterday after hearing Dupuis' decision.
Samuels said she was glad Dansereau won but called the victory "bittersweet."
"It saddens me that this could have happened in Roselle," Samuels said. "It makes me wonder how many times in the past this could have gone on undetected, unchallenged and unchecked."
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.