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Gramlich v. Cottrell

Decided: July 10, 1985.

LEONARD J. GRAMLICH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LOUISE COTTRELL, ROBERT FAIRFIELD & MARY C. LENNIE, CLERK OF THE CITY OF SOMERS POINT, DEFENDANTS



Connor, J.s.c.

Connor

This election contest brought pursuant to N.J.S.A. 19:29-1 et seq. seeks to invalidate 18 absentee ballots cast by residents of the Ocean Point Health Care Center, a nursing home in Somers Point. The basis for the challenge involves alleged violations of N.J.S.A. 19:57-23. The pertinent part of that statute reads as follows:

An absentee voter shall be entitled to assistance from a family member in performing any of the actions above. An incapacitated absentee voter shall also be entitled to assistance from a person other than a family member in

performing any of such actions. The family member or other person providing such assistance shall certify that he did assist the voter and will maintain the secrecy of the vote by both printing and signing his name in the space provided on the certificate. In no event may a candidate for election provide such assistance, nor may any person, at the time of providing such assistance, campaign or electioneer on behalf of any candidate.

The basic issues boil down to two:

1. Is it a violation of N.J.S.A. 19:57-23 for a candidate for local office to provide assistance to an incapacitated absentee voter in voting for a different candidate -- the one subject to the challenge?

2. If so does this violation require that any such ballot be invalidated?

For reasons which follow and which supplement a bench opinion, I conclude that both questions should be answered "yes".

The facts are essentially undisputed. Challenger Leonard Gramlich and challengee Robert Fairfield each sought nomination in the June 4, 1985 primary as Republican Committeeman for Ward 1 District 2 in the City of Somers Point. Gramlich received 55 machine ballots and 1 absentee for a total of 56. Fairfield received 42 machine ballots and 18 absentee ballots for a total of 60. Eighteen of the absentee ballots counted were cast by residents of the Ocean Point nursing home. (Two other ballots cast by the nursing home residents were rejected by the Board of Elections for procedural defects, were not counted and were not the subject of challenge.) The other absentee ballot was cast by Lisa Gramlich, daughter of challenger Leonard Gramlich, who herself was a candidate for Ward 1 District 2 Republican Committeewoman.

Charles Broomall, Jr. signed each of the certificates attached to the inner envelopes of the challenged ballots indicating that he provided assistance to the voters and as well indicating that he transported or mailed the ballots. Broomall is and was the Director of Recreation and Volunteer Services for Ocean Point. Broomall also was a candidate for 1st Ward City Council in Somers Point for the June 4, 1985 primary. Broomall ran as a "Regular Republican" as did challengee Fairfield.

Based upon the proofs presented, the exact "assistance" rendered by Broomall to each challenged voter ...


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