This case arises out of a dispute concerning a primary election in Ridgefield, New Jersey.*fn1 Plaintiff, Michael Madden, seeks the Democratic nomination to fill a one-year unexpired municipal council term. Plaintiffs, Joseph La Barbiera and John Quaregna, seek three-year municipal council terms. Plaintiffs Quaregna and La Barbiera have been certified as candidates in the primary election for the three-year terms by the borough clerk. Plaintiff, Michael Madden, has not been certified as a candidate in the primary election.
Thursday, April 13, 1989, was the last day for the filing of petitions for candidates to appear on the June 1989 primary ballot. Plaintiffs La Barbiera and Quaregna filed petitions for the three-year terms. The person nominated to run for the one-year unexpired council term was Albert Birchwale.
On Friday, April 14, 1989, Birchwale filed a letter stating that he declined to stand as a candidate in the primary election. A second letter declining to stand was filed on Monday, April 17, 1989.
A petition nominating plaintiff Madden to be the substituted candidate in the primary election replacing Birchwale was filed on April 17, 1989. That petition had Madden's "faxed" signatures.
Plaintiff Madden is presently a student at Purdue University and he anticipates graduating in the Spring of 1989. The law of New Jersey requires that a nominating petition have the candidate's signature in two places. N.J.S.A. 19:13-8 provides:
A candidate nominated for an office in a petition shall manifest his acceptance of such nomination by a written acceptance thereof, signed by his hand, upon or annexed to such petition, to which shall be annexed the oath of allegiance prescribed in section 41:1-1 of the Revised Statutes duly taken and subscribed by him before an officer authorized to take oaths in this State. . . .
It is undisputed that plaintiff Madden executed the nomination acceptance and oath of allegiance documents on Monday, April 17, 1989, in Indiana, "faxed" a copy to plaintiff democratic club that same day and also sent the original documents by express mail. On Monday, April 17, 1989, after receiving the "faxed" signatures of plaintiff Madden, plaintiff democratic club appended the "faxed" candidate signatures to the original nominating signatures and filed same with defendant Hegadorn as a nominating petition for a substituted candidate. No objection was raised by the borough clerk at the time of the filing.
On Tuesday, April 18, 1989, the acceptance of nomination, and oath-of-allegiance, forms with original signatures were received via express mail by plaintiff democratic club. These originals were appended to a photocopy of the nominating signatures and were brought to the office of defendant Hegadorn at approximately noontime for filing as an amended petition.
Defendant Hegadorn then advised that the originally filed petition had been deemed by her to be "defective" because of the "facsimile" signatures. Defendant Hegadorn had not received an objection to the petition but had decided that the petition was defective after consulting with the municipal attorney and others.
Thereafter there was an attempt to file the amended petition; however, defendant Hegadorn refused to accept the amended petition for filing. Then, in telephone conversations with plaintiffs' counsel, defendant Hegadorn stated her position that the originally filed petition was defective because of the facsimile signatures. She also iterated her position that she would not accept the amended petition.
On April 18, 1989, defendant Hegadorn certified plaintiffs Quaregna and La Barbiera to the Bergen County Clerk as candidates for the three-year council seats in the primary. Plaintiff Madden was not certified as a candidate. Three rival ...