Start of the trial to challenge the referendum on Hunterdon’s school obligations
A challenge to a referendum vote on the $33.4million South Hunterdon Regional School Bonds last November went to trial on Thursday, with lawyers trying to wrangle individual votes in a a contest that only passed by two votes.
A lawsuit filed by four of five members of the West Amwell Township committee seeks to stop the school district from moving forward on a plan to build a new school in nearby Lambertville and renovate another school .
West Amwell attorney Matt Moench wants to count a vote cast by Julia S. Kerr, 93, who was rejected by the Hunterdon County Board of Elections because her signature did not match their records.
This turned out to be Kerr’s last vote – she died on December 5 – and Ryan Kerr testified that voting in every election was important to her grandmother.
“What’s going on with the taxes? Kerr said her grandmother asked her. “She was so adamant about raising her taxes.” He said she was worried she could afford to pay more.
But Kerr said her grandmother was smart enough to know who she wanted to vote for.
“She just wasn’t running marathons or anything like that,” he said.
Superior Court Judge Michael O’Neill also heard testimony from Jane and Paul Wolkenstein, who moved from Mountain Lakes to Lambertville in August and voted by provisional ballot because their names were not on the voters list.
Jane Wolkenstein said she changed her address with the US Postal Service after moving. Paul Wolkenstein testified that his wife took care of his change of address.
Scott Salmon, an attorney representing the school board, wants Wolkenstein’s ballots counted.
But Moench said the law is clear on voters’ responsibility to register properly.
“There is no exception in good faith,” he said. “They shouldn’t have received provisional ballots in the first place.”
In a third challenge, Moench says a ballot should be invalidated because the voter colored in the bubble next to the names of their preferred candidates on the 2021 general election ballot, but then put a X on his yes vote in the referendum.
“We cannot disenfranchise voters because of technical shortcomings,” Salmon said.
Deputy Attorney General Pamela Ullman made seemingly contradictory statements. She said her client had no interest in the outcome of the election, but then told the judge to essentially maintain the status quo and follow the initial decisions of the Board of Elections.
The trial is expected to resume next month, with O’Neill promising a ruling on those particular voters before then.
In the meantime, the South Hunterdon Regional Education Council is watching interest rates rise amid growing concern that delays to election results could mean they have to go back to voters anyway.