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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hoboken Petitions Should Be Tossed to Uphold the Rule of Law (Even in Hudson County)

A report this morning on the apparently untimely petition filings by both of the two leading contestants for Hoboken mayor raises some interesting issues. As a New York election lawyer who has guided some candidates through the New York petition rules (derided as arcane, so rough they make the New Jersey election law look "Mickey Mouse" by comparison), I find some of the allegations disturbing.

First, the number of signatures required to run for Hoboken mayor is very small (one hundred) and almost doable for a single person on a single day. A candidate who cannot get the required number standing outside the PATH station, for example, simply has no business either running or crying disfranchisement.    The New Jersey requirements are Mickey Mouse compared to the professional operation required to run for any office or party position in New York State.  

Second, the New York rules are useful. They are often criticized, because their numerosity requirement (from several hundred to several thousand "valid" signatures) and strict time constraints (a statutorily-prescribed 38-day period) place a major burden on campaigns and often whittle down the candidate field.   However, they are somewhat effective in preventing fraud.   One rule requires the petition volume to be bound. This would prevent the addition or subtraction of pages from petitions, which may have happened yesterday. One report has already mentioned an allegation of pre-notarized signatures. Such signatures may be valid, but the notarization is fraudulent and a New York petition with such a notarization would face its wholesale invalidation.   In New York, petitions found to have been "permeated with fraud" are routinely invalidated, if for little other reason than to prevent lawbreakers and corner-cutters from gaining an unfair advantage over candidates who do play by the rules. 

If candidates were allowed "leeway" for certain reasons, there is the question of whether candidates in compliance were denied their fundamental equal protection right by the county clerk's office.
In my opinion, if the reports are correct, both Beth Mason and Dawn Zimmer are in jeopardy of being ineligible to run. Rules are rules, even in New Jersey. Especially after the recent corruption arrests (including that of Hoboken’s just-elected Mayor whose resignation this July is the reason for the new election coming up), the principle of the rule of law must be upheld.

Even in New Jersey.

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