Mendham Dems Win

MENDHAM TOWNSHIP –  Democrat Lauren Spirig’s impromptu election win celebration was three months late, but it still happened and that’s the key thing.

“I am ecstatic,” Spirig said as she and about a dozen supporters congratulated each other in the hallway of the historic Morris County Courthouse in Morristown, parts of which date back to the early 1800s.

“Now we can just focus on the business of serving the community on a bipartisan basis,” she said after Republicans abruptly dropped a challenge to her election victory.

Spirig “won” a seat on the five-person Mendham Township Committee last November by three votes over Tom Baio, the Republican incumbent. Then things got interesting.

After a recount solidified Spirig’s win, Baio went to court claiming that almost three dozen voters did so illegally – meaning they were not truly residents of the township.

Democrats countered that the GOP was going after “young voters” who may have voted by mail while away at college,

Not so, said Republicans. They argued in court filings that the case was about people voting illegally regardless of age.

“This is a case about residency,” Tim Howes, a lawyer for Baio, said in the beginning of his presentation Tuesday morning to Judge Stuart Minkowitz (below).

Baio was the plaintiff, so his side had the burden of proving voters had done so illegally.

Howes called four witnesses, but none of them were voters alleged to have done so improperly.

Instead, they were four individuals who testified that from their observation, non-residents had voted.

One witness said a house in her neighborhood appeared to be vacant, but that the person who used to live there still voted. Another witness spoke of seeing his neighbors packing up – presumably to move away – but they still voted in the township.

One obvious problem was that some of these witnesses were not objective observers. One man said he had hosted a party for Baio during the campaign and another man testifying, Sam Tolley, is a former Republican member of the township committee.

Baio himself was called to the stand in the afternoon session.

He said that after his narrow defeat, he decided to “drill down” and see what happened. Baio said he used social media and first-hand observation to conclude that a number of voters – registered Democrats apparently – were not residents.

But as Spirig’s attorney, Brett Pugach, objected to some of Baio’s answers, a recess was called.

When court resumed about 15 minutes later, Howes said he was dropping the case, or more officially, asking for it to be dismissed.

Suddenly it was over. Spirig’s legal team didn’t even have to argue its case.

Howes said afterwards, “I could see where it was going.”

Continuing the case would have amounted to spinning his wheels, he said.

This really was a quick and surprising ending to a three-month legal skirmish that had drawn in former Gov. Chris Christie. In countering Baio’s contention of illegal voters, the Democrats said some registered Republicans who voted may not have been township residents. Two of those cited were children of the former governor, who lives in the township.

Notwithstanding the end of the case, Howes said the residency question when it comes to voting is not over. He said he will request that county election officials review the alleged illegal voters to determine where they actually live.

The idea of people voting “back home,” or where they used to live, is certainly not unique to Mendham Township. That’s one reason this case attracted widespread interest. Of course, if observers were looking for the courts to clarify the issue, they’re still waiting. This case is now over.

The local upshot here is that Spirig’s term is secure, narrowing the Republicans’ hold on the governing body to 3-2.

Speaking again to supporters in the hallway, Spirig said, “I’m excited that democracy prevailed.”

Then the winners repaired to a local watering hole to continue the celebration.


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One response to “Mendham Dems Win”

  1. Cittarelli and now Baio dismissing the recounts after their respective elections. Sounds to me that the Republican Party doesn’t want to fight to overturn fraudulent votes. If Republicans don’t want to fight to overturn fraudulent votes, then maybe they can move to remove the electronic voting machines that are the crux of all the voting problems in New Jersey. Seems that Monmouth County did a recount of electronic voting machine tallies and found double-counting in favor of–you guessed it–Democrats!!!! How come it always seems to be the Democrats that win with the electronic voting machines, even where there are very, very thin margins????? Time to eliminate the electronic computer voting machines like some state are doing now.

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