November 28, 2020

How some counties plan to keep early vote counts secret

Good Friday morning!

It’s been 19 years since the worst terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil, which took the lives of 704 New Jerseyans.

I’ll just let this reminder stand alone at the top of today’s Playbook.

WHERE’S MURPHY?: In Manhattan for the 9/11 commemoration ceremony at 8:30 a.m., then in Trenton for a coronavirus press conference at 2 p.m., then Watchung for a 9/11 memorial service at 5:30 p.m.

CORONAVIRUS TRACKER: 507 newly-diagnosed cases for a total of 195,414. Five more deaths for a total of 14,225 (not counting 1,789 probable deaths)

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Most often, person to person spread is thought to happen among people in close contact, meaning within 6 feet of each other, occurring mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneeze.” — State Epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan on March 7 — a month after President Trump told Bob Woodward that coronavirus was airborne but weeks before Murphy’s statewide shutdown order

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Assemblyman Gary Schaer, Attorney/former Star-Ledger reporter Megan DeMarco, former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, Edgewater Park Deputy Mayor Deputy Mayor Lauren DiFilippo, Norcross Chief of Staff Michael Maitland. Saturday for SpotlightPA’s Chris Baxter. Sunday for Assemblyman/Anti-vaxxer Jamel Holley, Seton Hall’s Matt Hale, NBC’s Ginger Gibson

JEFF VAN DREW NOMINATES COUNT VON COUNT TO BOARD OF ELECTIONS — New Jersey elections officials’ dilemma: How to keep early vote counts secret, by POLITICO’s Matt Friedman: A new, quietly-passed law that allows elections officials to begin counting votes early has sewn distrust and skepticism among New Jersey politicians, including some who are responsible for tabulating the ballots. Even with serious criminal penalties added for those who leak the information, members of the county boards of elections that count the votes — Democratic and Republican appointees who are often political operatives, party leaders and even relatives of elected officials — are wondering how they can ignore early vote totals that could potentially give candidates a leg up in areas where they need to focus their resources in the final days of a campaign. “You don’t share it, but I don’t know how you ignore it. It’s human nature,” said Al Barlas, the Essex County Republican chair and a member of the county’s Board of Elections. Richard Ambrosino, the Camden County Republican chair and a member of his county’s Board of Elections, said the board is enacting a security measure he hopes will keep the vote counts secret — even from him.

WILL RONALD RICE SPONSOR? — New Jersey lawmakers preparing legislation for legal cannabis market ahead of ballot question, by POLITICO’s Sam Sutton: New Jersey lawmakers are beginning to work on enabling legislation that would give shape to the operations of the legal cannabis industry, should voters approve a recreational use question on the November ballot. The new bill will be similar to previous legislation, NJ S2703 (18R) / NJ A4497 (18R), which failed to generate the necessary support in state Senate during the last legislative session, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the drafting process. “The goal is to have a new bill ready following the general election,” Assembly Majority spokesman Kevin McArdle said. Should voters approve the marijuana legalization ballot question on Nov. 3 — public polling strongly suggests they will — lawmakers will need to formalize a legal framework for the industry to operate.

‘TRUMP IS DEEPLY UNPOPULAR AND HURTING OUR CANDIDATES DOWN-BALLOT. WHAT ELSE CAN WE DO TO ALIENATE VOTERS?’ — “Republican chairmen formalize opposition to marijuana legalization,” by New Jersey Globe’s Nikita Birukov: “The Republican County Chairmen’s Association on Thursday unanimously voted to adopt a resolution opposing the referendum and urging their supporters to vote it down. ‘We also are strongly opposed to using our State’s constitution to legalize pot. Pro-pot legislators couldn’t get a bill passed, so, instead, they’re trashing our constitution,’ Hudson County Republican Chairman Jose Arango said. Arango was elected to chair the Republican County Chairmen’s Association at the same meeting.”

EDUCATION — ‘Too late’: New Jersey lawmakers rip DOE for digital divide, school reopening response, by POLITICO’s Carly Sitrin: During a Senate Budget Committee hearing in Trenton, Kevin Dehmer said that despite the Department of Education’s efforts in late July to make digital divide grants available and on Sept. 4 to disseminate a remote learning “toolkit” to districts, approximately 193,000. Dehmer, who has been serving as interim commissioner since July, also noted the department announced this week it would provide districts with a free, optional Start Strong snapshot assessment to help schools and the state gauge where students are academically after schools closed in March. Lawmakers were not happy with what they were hearing. “I just think all of this is too late,” Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) told Dehmer.

WE’VE GOT 18 PROBLEMS BUT FRAUD AIN’T ONE — “Why so many mail-in ballots were rejected in NJ’s July primary election. Hint: Many arrived late,” by NJ Spotlight’s Colleen O’Dea: “Late arrival was the biggest reason why mail-in ballots were rejected, according to the analysis, and it highlights the potential problems with using the U.S. Postal Service for the November general election. That also underscores the support advocates and others are giving to the state’s decision to offer voters more secure drop boxes and other options to return their ballots. Using the state database of mail-in voters as of Aug. 19, NJ Spotlight found that 9,550 ballots, or 27.4% of all mail-in ballots rejected, were not counted because they arrived after the deadline. That was despite Gov. Phil Murphy’s having extended the deadline by which ballots marked by Election Day could be received and still be counted. Murphy gave election officials until one week after polls closed to count ballots. In all, state data shows that 2.7% of 1.28 million mail-in ballots cast, or almost 35,000, were rejected for one of 18 reasons.”

MENTAL HEALTH — Murphy says he wants to restore funding for school-based mental health services, by POLITICO’s Katherine Landergan: Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday evening that he wants to try to restore funding for school-based services like suicide prevention and counseling as part of his budget negotiations with the Legislature. “This is one of the things that we’d like to try to find a way to get back in the budget,” Murphy said during an appearance on “Ask Governor Murphy“ on radio station WNYC. “This is one that I think there’s a broad agreement and support to try to find a way to get back in. I‘ve just got to make sure we have the money to pay for it.” “But there’s no question it’s something we should do everything we can to get that in and it does an enormous amount of good,” he said.

—“Rudder slams Republican chairs over resolution opposing marijuana legalization”

DYE HARD — “Passaic activist fired for anti-Semitic posts sues David Wildstein, New Jersey Globe,” by The Record’s Richard Cowen: “A year ago, Jeffrey Dye was fired from his job with Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration and forced to step down as president of the Passaic NAACP after an online blog, the New Jersey Globe, published a series of anti-Semitic and anti-Latino comments that Dye had posted on his Facebook page … The man who exposed those Facebook rants is David Wildstein, the former Port Authority executive and aide to Gov. Chris Christie who knows what it’s like to lose a government job while under fire … Dye last week filed a defamation suit in state Superior Court in Passaic County against Wildstein and the Globe, seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages. Acting as his own attorney, he alleged that he’s the victim of a racial attack, that the articles were motivated by his ‘criticism of a Jewish politician.’”

NEUS YOU CAN USE — Murphy administration files first response to Neuwirth’s whistleblower lawsuit, by Matt: Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has given its first response to a whistleblower lawsuit filed by former assistant state health commissioner who claims he was fired after he was asked to do a special favor for relatives of a top administration official. The response, however, doesn’t deal with the merits of the case.

SUE FOR $25B. SETTLE FOR $25M — “Two dozen N.J. elected officials urge Murphy to sue oil companies,” by NJ Advance Media’s Michael Sol Warren: “A bipartisan group of two dozen New Jersey elected officials, from a former governor to small town council members, are urging Gov. Phil Murphy to sue oil and gas companies over the impacts of climate change. The group took out a full-page ad in Thursday’s editions of The Star-Ledger in an effort to publicly pressure Murphy into taking action. The ad argues that New Jersey will need $25 billion to protect against sea level rise alone — a figure that comes from the advocacy group Center for Climate Integrity — and pushes for the governor to force oil companies to pay up.”

NEW DIRECTION NJ STARTS POLLING ON WHETHER TO CALL GOVERNOR ‘MPY’ — “SZA joins governor to make Juneteenth a state holiday in N.J.,” by NJ Advance Media’s Brent Johnson: “Juneteenth, the day commemorating the end of slavery in America, is now a state holiday in New Jersey as Gov. Phil Murphy marked the occasion — virtually, at least — with Garden State-bred R&B star SZA. The Democratic governor signed the bill into law during a live ceremony on Instagram Thursday afternoon. SZA, who was raised Solána Imani Rowe in Maplewood, joined online from from New York City. The law (S19) establishes the third Friday in June as Juneteenth Day in New Jersey.”

—“Ex-Lt. Gov. Guadagno: Silent suffragettes live today”

—“I’m an Uber driver and I agree with the C.E.O. Gig workers do deserve better”

—“N.J. unemployment claims increase as state is approved for extra $300 payment”

—“NJ Right To Life condemns loosening of abortion restrictions”

—“Las Vegas gun dealer will stop selling high-capacity magazines in NJ to settle lawsuit”

—“Sen. Cory Booker talks President Trump downplaying COVID-19, GOP relief bill and more”

—“Biden names Nabila Baptiste as N.J. state director”

—“In NJ-7 house race, Malinowski and Kean set to debate on Sunday”

FOR AT LEAST THE THIRD TIME, THE CAMDEN DEM MACHINE CLAIMS PETITION FRAUD — “Petition drive for nonpartisan Camden elections falls short; activists mull their options,” by WHYY’s April Saul: “Camden City Council members delivered what could be the final blow Tuesday night to a petition drive to return nonpartisan elections to the city, when they ruled that activists had not collected enough signatures from registered voters … In the hours following the meeting, activists were trying to understand how their efforts to return to nonpartisan elections, which they believe have the potential to level the playing field for challengers in a city dominated by a Democratic political machine, went downhill so quickly … Camden City Councilman Angel Fuentes… Camden County Sheriff Gilbert ‘Whip’ Wilson and Sheila Roberts,,.. wrote a letter to Pastoriza dated Aug. 24 questioning whether the signatures were from valid Camden voters … the three warned Pastoriza that they were conducting a meticulous review of the petitions — comparing names to voter rolls — and had so far determined that only about 45% of the signatures were valid. In the letter, they called the submission of the petitions with so many invalid signatures ‘fraudulent and illegal.’”

WHERE WAS DON’S GUARDIAN? — “Toms River’s ailing business chief was ready to return; not so fast, mayor says,” by The Asbury Park Press’ Jean Mikle: “Former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian is out as Toms River’s business administrator, as Mayor Maurice B. “Mo” Hill Jr. has appointed long-time Public Works Director Lou Amoruso to the job. ‘It was time to part company,’ Hill said Wednesday of his decision to inform Guardian that his services were no longer needed. Guardian, 66, who has been on medical leave since suffering a stroke June 9, had informed the council and mayor that he had recovered and intended to return to work on Sept. 4. He learned of his ouster last week … In an email sent to council members Sept. 8, Guardian described his termination as ‘illegal,’ and said he plans to consult with a lawyer to review his options. ‘I trust our paths will cross again,’ the email concludes.”

ALSO PERMANENTLY BANNED FROM THE BURGER KING KIDS CLUB — “Committeewoman censured after allegedly calling mayor a ‘cripple’,” by NJ Advance Media’s Steve Strunsky: “A member of the Rochelle Park Township Committee has been censured by a majority of her colleagues on the 5-member ruling body who agreed that she had maligned the mayor for his use of a wheelchair, which she said the mayor exploited for political gain. The committee voted 3-2 at its August 26 meeting to approve a resolution censuring Committeewoman Linda Boniface, a Democrat, for having failed to ‘conform to a high level of personal, moral and ethical conduct, especially while performing the duties and responsibilities of their elected position,’ the resolution stated. ‘The only reason you got elected was because of your wheelchair,’ the resolution quoted Boniface as telling Mayor Nicholas LiBassi, a Republican, during a closed session portion of the June 24 committee meeting, when the committee’s interview with a candidate for the township chief of police job veered off-topic. LiBassi uses a wheelchair as a result of a spinal cord injury in 1996.”

I’D LIKE TO BE IN ROCKAWAY IN AN OCTOPUS’ GARDEN WITH A BLADE — “Rockaway Township Council censures Councilman Tucker Kelley for conduct during meetings,” by The Daily Record’s Gene Myers: “The resolution, which said Kelley intentionally and repeatedly disrupts meetings and uses them as forums ‘to cast aspersions upon or criticize the job performances of other members of the governing body, members of the administration, township employees, professionals and others,’ passed with seven yes votes, one no vote by Kelley and one abstention … The censure is just political payback, Kelley said. He said he feels like he’s ‘in a sword fight with an octopus’ at council meetings, where votes often tally 8 to 1 against him.”

EXPLOSIVE ORDINANCE — “Englewood Cliffs ordinance change could mean no more bills for protests,” by The Record’s Katie Sobko: “The council on Wednesday took the first step to amend an ordinance that allows for organizers to be billed for police overtime for events protected by the First Amendment. The move came a week after the borough found itself at the center of a firestorm for sending a bill to an 18-year-old resident who organized a Black Lives Matter protest over the summer. The amended ordinance, if approved in October, will provide exemptions to charitable, religious and First Amendment-protected events from the current billing rules.”

DROP EVERYTHING, MR. GREWAL! — “Trenton council prez Kathy McBride demands AG investigation into alleged press ‘leaks’ on Wire Works deal,” by The Trentonian’s Isaac Avilucea: “Council president Kathy McBride apparently doesn’t believe in transparent government. McBride wrote a letter Wednesday to AG Gurbir Grewal and Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri demanding they investigate what she believes are illegal leaks of ‘privileged and confidential’ information to The Trentonian. The letter was also sent to city law director John Morelli … The council president fired off the missive a day after accusing The Trentonian of illegally obtaining information about a secretly discussed deal to sell the historic Roebling Wire Works building to John Liu, president of Elite Spiders LLc, for $200,000.”

HOBOKEN — “Hoboken cops engaged in sexual assault, improper relationship, lawsuit says; HCPO reviewing,” by Hudson County View’s John Heinis: “Several Hoboken police officers are accused of engaging in the physical and sexual assault of a woman back in 2018, with one officer allegedly having an improper relationship with her afterwards, a lawsuit says — claims being reviewed by the county prosecutor’s office.”

—“Trenton council launches ‘McCarthy’-like inquisition into alleged breach of confidential firefighter memo”

—“Two Jersey City council members to introduce competing ordinances for police review board”

—“Helpline for Black victims of racial violence, abuse launches in Middlesex County”

—“Franklin Council calls on state to allow ‘in-person outdoor’ voting”

—“Roar to the Shore canceled, but Pagans still coming to Wildwood this weekend, police say”

BRUCE ALMIGHTY — “New Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band album coming in October, single out now,” by The Asbury Park Press’ Chris Jordan: “A new Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band album called ‘Letter to You’ will be released Oct. 23 on Columbia Records. The album was recorded with the band in five days with no overdubs, ‘completely live’ at Springsteen’s home studio in Colts Neck.”

R.I.P. — “Kool and the Gang’s Ronald ‘Khalis’ Bell dead at 68,” by People’s Eric Todisco: “Ronald ‘Khalis’ Bell, singer and co-founder of Kool & the Gang, died Wednesday at his U.S. Virgin Islands home at age 68 … In 1964, Bell and his brother, Robert ‘Kool’ Bell — who were teenagers at the time — formed Kool & the Gang in Jersey City, New Jersey, alongside neighborhood friends Dennis ‘D.T.’ Thomas, Charles Smith, George Brown, Robert ‘Spike’ Mickens, and Ricky West … By the 1970s, they had become one of the most popular and celebrated musical groups, blending jazz, soul, funk, rock, and pop music.”

—“Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes announce NJ drive-in show”

—“Rutgers president on Big Ten’s reboot, Trump’s ‘cheap politics’ and college sports in a pandemic”

—“Hackensack Meridian fined for COVID-19 mask violations at nursing home”

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