SAYREVILLE – A New Jersey Superior Court judge has dismissed a candidate’s verified petition contesting the results of last year’s mayoral election in Sayreville.
The petition from Arthur Rittenhouse, the Republican candidate for mayor in 2019, was dismissed by Superior Court Judge Arthur Bergman on Oct. 26. A subsequent motion from Rittenhouse’s legal team to reconsider was denied by Superior Court Judge Thomas McCloskey on Dec. 4.
Rittenhouse’s legal team filed the petition in late 2019 against Middlesex County Clerk Elaine Flynn; the Middlesex County Board of Elections; an unidentified Middlesex County official who was responsible for part of the election; and Victoria Kilpatrick, the Democratic candidate for mayor.
In that year’s race for mayor, Kilpatrick was initially declared the winner over Rittenhouse by a margin of three votes. After Rittenhouse sought a recount of the election results, Kilpatrick was again declared the winner by a margin of six votes. She was sworn in as mayor in January.
The petition on the behalf of Rittenhouse alleged provisional and mail-in ballots that could have changed the outcome of the election were improperly rejected.
According to the petition, 46 provisional ballots from the election were not counted; 35 were allegedly not properly locked in the official bag and five were allegedly not placed in the official bag. It was also alleged by the petition that it was unclear whether the total mail-in ballots were accurate due to difficulties with the scanning machine.
The 35 provisional ballots were recounted in May, which increased Kilpatrick’s margin of victory to 18 votes. However, a letter sent to Bergman from Rittenhouse’s legal team in August noted that 11 provisional ballots were not recounted and three mail-in-ballots appeared to be rejected on discretionary grounds, leaving 14 ballots contested.
With the number of known contested votes being close to a margin of victory four votes apart, Rittenhouse’s legal team argued that there was substantial uncertainty in the outcome of the election, warranting a special election to be held.
Rittenhouse’s legal team also alleged that there were numerous errors and irregularities during the election process capable of changing the outcome of the election.
The allegations were it was unclear how many provisional ballots went missing because a number of them were misplaced, Sayreville Business Administrator Dan Frankel did not recuse himself as a Board of Elections commissioner for the race, the original vote tally of mail-in ballots was erased and it was unclear if the total mail-in ballots were accurate due to machine jams.
“These errors and irregularities imperiled the entire election,” attorney Ruby Khallouf wrote on the behalf of Rittenhouse. “In light of all of these errors and irregularities, it is impossible to quantify the true number of contested votes at issue.”
Emphasizing the alleged errors and irregularities, Rittenhouse’s legal team stated that the court must declare the results of the mayoral election null and void and order a special election to be held.
In response to the allegations of errors and irregularities, Bergman said that not a single ballot has been found that fits the description of a provisional ballot that went missing and no evidence was provided to seek Frankel’s recusal. According to Bergman, all votes by the four-member board, which has two Democratic and two Republican members, were unanimous.
Bergman also stated that there is nothing in the record to indicate that the final count is not accurate, and there is nothing in the record to support any conclusion other than the recount is accurate. The judge made note of the recount being performed in the presence of everyone interested in the outcome to ensure the results were correct.
“This court is of the opinion that it has undertaken all the efforts necessary to determine that the final ballot count is one that all voters can have confidence in,” Bergman wrote.
Ordering the petition to be dismissed, Bergman also noted that the 14 uncounted votes would not be enough to change the outcome of the election and Rittenhouse’s legal team conceded that they were unaware of the exact number or the exact nature of alleged errors and irregularities unless and until the parties engage in discovering them.
“What plaintiffs seek is something that I have routinely pointed out is not granted by the Court, but by the Department of Environmental Protection,” he wrote. “They are seeking a fishing license.”