For Mendham Dems, Hope Spirigs Eternal, but…

MENDHAM TOWNSHIP – Democrat Lauren Spirig took the oath Thursday evening, said she was humbled to win her seat, and expressed hope that the township “would grow together as a community.”

That sentiment is normal for reorg meetings, but there’s nothing normal these days about politics in Chris Christie’s hometown.

Spirig’s three-vote victory is being challenged in court by Republican Tom Baio, the losing candidate.

As of now, Spirig’s win narrows the Republican advantage on the township committee to 3-2.

And that, said fellow Democratic Committee Member Amalia Duarte, better represents the township.

“We are not a red town. We are not a blue town. We are a purple town,” she said.

Duarte, of course, is hardly a neutral observer. Besides sitting on the committee, she chairs the Morris County Democratic organization.

As corny as it seems sometimes, there is a “let’s all be friends” quality to reorganization meetings.

Republican Tracey Moreen, elected last November as well, said she was confident all would work together.

GOP Mayor Nick Monaghan acknowledged there will be disagreements on the committee, but hoped that all members would be treated with respect.

There was, however, if you excuse the pun, the elephant in the room.

Baio’s suit claims he was the real winner.

His suit asks that he be reinstated on the committee. He also wanted the court to prevent Spirig from taking the oath, which did not happen.

A trial on the suit is scheduled for Jan. 19 in state Superior Court, Morristown.

Baio’s main point is that enough Democratic voters did so illegally to nullify Spirig’s three-vote win.

More specifically, the argument is that some people who voted do not really live in the township. This gets into the practice of young people away at college, or perhaps traveling, voting “back home.”

Traditionally, the courts have allowed people with two domiciles to select the one they want as an official address. All is well and good with that, assuming, naturally, that people vote only once. The suit identifies by name the alleged illegal voters.

Nothing happens in a vacuum and it’s impossible to look at Baio’s legal action and not think of GOP challengers to elections nationwide. Think Donald Trump and more recently, Kari Lake in Arizona.

Republicans contend this case is simply about making sure all votes are legally cast. That, they say, should be a bipartisan concern.

Democrats, as Duarte alluded to Thursday, say Baio’s challenge is needlessly dividing the town and shattering a commendable sense of community.

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