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Goetsch v. Philhower

Decided: April 5, 1960.

WILLIAM GOETSCH, MARY PILART AND PAUL DIAMOND, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
HAROLD W. PHILHOWER, TOWN CLERK OF IRVINGTON, NEW JERSEY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



Goldmann, Freund and Haneman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Goldmann, S.j.a.d.

Goldmann

This is an appeal from a Law Division judgment, entered March 22, 1960, holding void the petition nominating defendant Huhn for Democratic county committeeman in the 1st ward, 16th district, Irvington, N.J., and directing that his name not be placed on the sample ballot or official ballot for the primary election to take place April 19, 1960. We scheduled oral argument as an emergency in view of the necessity of mailing out the sample ballots. Counsel for plaintiffs appeared at the special request of the court to stipulate such background facts as might be pertinent, but he did not argue. Following argument and further study of the case we reversed the judgment and announced an early filing of our opinion.

The petition Huhn filed with defendant town clerk contained ten signatures, the number required by N.J.S.A. 19:23-8. Plaintiffs timely challenged the petition (R.S. 19:13-10) for the reason that two of the signers had not

voted at the general election held in November 1959. The town clerk proceeded to pass upon the validity of this objection, N.J.S.A. 19:13-11, and accepted the petition. Plaintiffs then instituted an action in the Superior Court, Law Division, seeking a reversal of the town clerk's determination. We are informed that the trial judge reached the result he did for the single reason that the challenged signers did not vote at the November 1959 general election. The town clerk and Huhn appeal the resultant judgment.

The applicable statute is N.J.S.A. 19:23-7 which, in pertinent part, states:

"Each such petition shall set forth that the signers thereof are qualified voters of the State, congressional district, county, municipality, ward or election district, as the case may be, in which they reside and for which they desire to nominate candidates; that they are members of a political party (naming the same), and that at the last general election preceding the execution of the petition they voted for a majority of the candidates of such political party , and that they intend to affiliate with that political party at the ensuing election; that they indorse the person or persons named in their petition as candidate or candidates for nomination for the office or offices therein named, and that they request that the name of the person or persons therein mentioned be printed upon the official primary ballots of their political party as the candidate or candidates for such nomination. The petition shall further state the residence and post-office address of each person so indorsed, and shall certify that the person or persons so indorsed is or are legally qualified under the laws of this State to be nominated, and is or are a member or members of the political party named in the petition." (Italics ours.)

L. 1898, c. 139, a revision of the Election Act, adopted some years before the institution of primary elections in this State, provided in section 41 for nominations by petition. This section required, simply, that those signing a nominating petition be legally qualified to vote for the candidates named. After New Jersey had adopted primary elections the Legislature in 1920 passed a general revision of the Election Act, L. 1920, c. 349. Art. XII, ยงยง 3 to 13, dealt with direct nomination by petition. Section 5 required that the petition "be signed by legally qualified

voters of this State, residing within the district or political division in and for which the officer or officers nominated are to be elected," to the number designated. The Election Act was again revised in 1930 (L. 1930, c. 187); section 272 set out the requirements of a nominating petition later carried over into R.S. 19:23-7.

Although several reported cases refer to R.S. 19:23-7, as amended, none has dealt with the precise question before us, namely, whether signers of a nominating petition must have voted at the last general election. In re Zohn , 49 N.J. Super. 350 (Law Div. 1958), concerned the clause italicized above, which requires that signers state that they voted for a majority of the candidates of their political party at the last general election preceding the execution of the petition. It was there held that such a requirement, calling upon petitioners to disclose how they voted, is unconstitutional. The court concluded that the italicized clause could be deleted from N.J.S.A. 19:23-7, without in any sense destroying the intent and purpose of the rest of the section. The Zohn ruling is not here implicated, for the simple reason that the challenged signers did not vote in the November 1959 election.

The Legislature did not, in N.J.S.A. 19:23-7 or elsewhere in the Election Act, specifically address itself to the question of what would happen in case one or more signers of a primary nominating petition had failed to vote at the last general election. The statute is completely silent on the subject. It might be argued that the Legislature must impliedly have intended that before one could be a signer he had to show that he voted in the preceding November election. Were any such contention advanced we would be obliged to conclude that the requirement was invalid, trespassing upon the civil and political rights of citizens. Cf. Cottingham v. Vogt , 60 N.J. Super. 576 (App. Div. 1960), just decided.

Unlike some states, New Jersey does not permit a member of one party to "cross over" and ...


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