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South Amboy Election Contest:  Appellate Division Disqualifies a Voter

The 2010 election for Mayor of South Amboy is still not over.  The Appellate Division handed challenger Mary O’Connor a victory in a decision reported today (November 23, 2011) when it disqualified one voter on the basis that she was not properly domiciled in South Amboy.  Practically speaking, that leaves a one vote margin between the two leading candidates.  The opinion is of interest for its analysis of the law governing domicile.

Election day in 2010 was an interesting day for South Amboy.  South Amboy has long been a stronghold of the Middlesex County Democratic machine.  Independent candidate Mary O’Connor nearly pulled off the upset of the year.  After the votes were counted, Ms. O’Connor trailed Fred Henry by one vote, 1,128 to 1,127.  With the election a virtual tie, she filed for an election contest.  During the election contest the Middlesex County Board of Elections discovered six previously uncounted provisional ballots, which changed the margin, placing Henry in the lead by three votes at 1,030 to 1,127.

The matter proceeded to trial.  The trial reduced the margin to two votes.  Ms. O’Connor appealed, and raised three issues.

One of those issues was the domicile of some of the voters.  One in particular testified that her only connection with South Amboy was a room in the back of her business.  The Appellate Division disqualified her vote, and provided some very clear guidance on the issue.  There are some very important concepts to remember:

(1) In order to vote in an election, the voter must be registered at his or her domicile.

(2) One may have multiple residences but only one “domicile” for purposes of voting.

(3) The permanent home of a person is considered his domicile and the place of his or her domicile determines the right to vote.

(4) Additionally, and this is not part of the opinion, the law provides for a procedure for a person with multiple residences to elect one of them as his or her domicile.  Such an action is taken through the Board of Elections.

When in the course of an election contest, a candidate challenges a voter’s domicile, the court must make a factual determination on the record.  The relevant factors in determining domicile include billing address, residence from which tax returns are filed, mailing address, membership in local clubs, driver’s license, place where a person spends the greatest amount of time, newspaper subscriptions, etc.  Common sense will also uncover other factors relevant to an individual case.

The South Amboy case may well head to the New Jersey Supreme Court.  There are other legal issues that Ms. O’Connor may ask the Supreme Court to address, but it remains to be seen if she will proceed.


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