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Judge Voids the Morris County Freeholder Primary Election

Political newcomer Hank Lyon came from nowhere to stun Morris County on primary election day.  He outpolled four term incumbent Margaret Nordstrom by ten votes out of approximately 24,500 cast in the Republican primary election.  There was a recount, followed by an election contest.  The election contest was tried over the course of a month.  At the conclusion of the trial, the Superior Court voided the election and threw the race to the Morris County Republican County Committee.

It doesn’t happen very often, but it happened this time.  It is rare for a court to void an election following an election contest.  That is precisely what Superior Court Assignment Judge Thomas L. Weisenbeck did in the Morris County Freeholder race between four term incumbent Margaret Nordstrom and 23 year old newcomer Hank Lyon.  Following the trial of Nordstrom v. Lyon, Judge Weisenbeck ordered that Hank Lyon’s “nomination as the Republican Party candidate for the office of Morris County Freeholder is herby null and void, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 19:3-7”.  N.J.S.A. 19:3-7 provides:

“If any candidate for nomination for or election to any public office or party position, or his campaign manager, shall fail to file any statement or oath required by this Title to be filed, at the time, place and in the manner required by this Title, and duly verified as herein required, or shall file any false statement, the nomination or election of such candidate, if nominated or elected at the primary or other election concerning which such statement shall have been filed, shall be null and void.”

During the course of the trial, there was evidence that Mr. Lyon failed to file certain campaign finance reports.  Specifically, it was alleged that he failed to file the 48 hour report of expenditures that would have been required for him to disclose approximately sixteen thousand dollars worth of spending on a mail piece.  It was further alleged that he filed the required report, that Ms. Nordstrom would have known about the mailer, and would have responded to the mailer.  It was further alleged that the mailer was misleading and that the mailer had a direct impact on the outcome of the election.

The court held that since Mr. Lyon did not file the required disclosure, and that there was no defense for the failure to file, that the election was void.

An appeal is already in the works.  It is likely that the Appellate Division will compare the Lyon case with an Appellate Division precedent, In re the Contest of the Democratic Primary of June 3, 2003, 367 N.J. Super. 261 (App. Div. 2004), which is the only reported appellate decision on point.  In that case, the Appellate Division found that the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) had primary jurisdiction over the campaign finance claims.  Counsel for Ms. Nordstrom appears to have effectively distinguished Nordstrom v. Lyon from the June 3, 2003 case.  The trial court accepted the Nordstrom argument.  The issue for the Appellate Division will be whether the trial court correctly interpreted the June 3, 2003 case and the related campaign finance law.

Rule

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