The voters have spoken. Now, a judge must decide how many of them are heard.
William “Bud” Ravitz, a Democrat who lost last month’s Morris Township committee race by 15 votes to Republican incumbent Peter Mancuso, on Thursday filed a lawsuit contesting the outcome.
Ravitz wants a judge to order the Morris County Board of Elections to count 52 ballots –42 “provisional” ballots given to voters at the polls, and 10 mail-in-votes–that were rejected because their envelopes were unsealed.
The claims defective glue has disenfranchised these voters, whose ballots could reverse the outcome, Ravitz believes. The court papers include affidavits from 16 voters who contend they followed proper procedures and had difficulty sealing the envelopes.
Morris County Clerk Ann Grossi also is named in a civil rights complaint, alleging she stripped voters of their right to vote by providing faulty envelopes.
Grossi, who is a lawyer, said she has not yet been served with the legal papers and declined to comment on the case.
Additionally, the suit asks for the vote of Gillian Elise Goldberg be counted. Her vote was rejected because of “mismatched signatures,” a situation Goldberg corrected previously, according to the lawsuit.
At stake: Total control of Morris Township’s governing body. Two years ago, it was all Republican. If Ravitz’ challenge is successful, and Mancuso is denied a seventh term, Democrats will hold all five Township committee seats for the first time.
Thursday’s late afternoon filing came right at the deadline, 10 days after a recount of everything but the rejected ballots showed Mancuso ahead by 15 votes.
On Election Night, Mancuso held a 48-vote lead. That prompted a count of provisional- and last-minute votes-by-mail (votes postmarked on Election Day and received within 48 hours), which whittled the margin to 13 votes. Mancuso gained a couple of tallies in the Nov. 25 recount.
Provisional ballots were given to anyone who voted by mail in the prior election and attempted to use a voting booth this time.
Ravitz, 58, is an AT&T manager who moved to the Township three years ago. He called the experience an education.
“For the first time out, it’s been a real lesson in American civics,” he said. “Nobody expected such drama. But here we are.”
While the outcome matters, the principle is more important, Ravitz said. His lawyer, Scott Salmon, echoed that theme.
“We’re trying to get all the votes counted,” Salmon said. “You shouldn’t be disenfranchised because of bad glue on an envelope.”
“All I want is a fair and honest, transparent hearing, which is in the best interests of all the citizens of Morris Township,” said Mancuso, 82. He is a retired governor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Filed in Superior Court, Morristown, the legal challenge is being financed by the state Democratic committee, represented by attorney Rajiv Parikh.
Along with Ravitz, plaintiffs include the state and county Democratic committees, and voters Nancy Berns, Robert A. Agrusti, Odete Eiger, Linda Koch, Alicia Benjamin-Stennett, Alexandra Stennett and Angel Vega.
Grossi, the Board of Elections and unspecified election officials are listed as defendants. In addition to the ballot count, reimbursement of legal fees and court costs is requested by Ravitz’ side.