Angel Vega considers himself apolitical.
“I don’t care who wins or loses. But I want my vote to count,” he told a judge on Tuesday.
Vega was one of five Morris Township voters who testified about their attempts to cast provisional ballots in last November’s Township Committee election.
Democratic candidate William “Bud” Ravitz is challenging his 15-vote loss to Republican Peter Mancuso, sworn in earlier this month for his seventh term.
Ravitz believes his winning votes remain to be counted, among 42 provisional ballots and 10 vote-by-mail ballots rejected by the Morris County Board of Elections as unsealed.
His side blames the county for supplying faulty envelopes– “Gluegate.”
Superior Court Assignment Judge Stuart Minkowitz must decide whether to count these ballots. Or, to count just enough of them to confirm or reverse the election’s outcome.
Nobody has suggested any ballot-tampering. Election law stipulates ballots must be sealed. But the judge has indicated he may cut voters some slack, if they convince him they intended to follow the rules.
At stake is one-party control of Morris Township’s governing body.
If Ravitz, 58, ousts the 82-year-old Mancuso, Democrats for the first time will occupy all five Committee seats. The dais was exclusively Republican just a couple of years ago.
Minkowitz didn’t order any counting on Tuesday. He wasn’t feeling well and cut short the hearing, which resumes on Friday with more witnesses.
But the judge, sitting in Superior Court, Morristown, stayed long enough to toss one part of Ravitz’ case, a Civil Rights complaint.
The complaint sought damages and legal fees from the county, alleging Morris County Clerk Ann Grossi disenfranchised voters by providing ballots they could not seal properly.
Agreeing with Grossi’s lawyer, John Carbone, the judge ruled such complaints cannot be combined with election challenges. Ravitz’ attorney, Rajiv Prakh, said he may file a separate Civil Rights lawsuit.
Minkowitz also removed New Jersey- and Morris County Democratic organizations as plaintiffs in the case. It was not immediately clear if this would halt their ability to fund Ravitz’s legal challenge.
The judge directed Prakh and co-counsel Scott Salmon to prepare paperwork to expedite counting of the 10 rejected mail-in ballots, should that step be necessary.
Glue was not a factor for one witness who testified on Tuesday. Gillian Goldberg’s ballot got rejected by election officials because her signature did not match one on file with her voter registration.
Goldberg, a student at Smith College, attributed the discrepancy to tremors in her hand.
Two witnesses testified they correctly followed procedures when submitting their provisional ballots at the polls. Two others said they had difficulty sealing the ballots.
“The adhesive that comes on the envelope wasn’t sticky,” testified Vega, a former commissioner on the Morristown Housing Authority whose ownership of homes in Morristown and Morris Township prompted questions from Mancuso lawyer Timothy Howes.
Vega said he resided in the Township and was registered to vote there.
As for the envelope, Vega said he had thought about asking poll workers for tape to seal his ballot.
“I had to lick it. I remember. I didn’t want to do it, but I did. The DNA’s on there,” he told the judge with a smile.
Vega has figured in Morris Township politics before, though not in a way he or anyone else would have wished.
In February 2014, he was charged with failing to yield to a pedestrian in a Morristown crosswalk. That pedestrian was Jeff Grayzel, at the time the lone Democrat on the Morris Township Committee.
Grayzel was knocked out of politics while he recuperated from his injuries. He returned with a vengeance in 2018, winning back his seat and giving Democrats their first majority in memory. Grayzel then became the Township’s first Democratic mayor.
This month, he announced his bid for state Senate.