New Jersey County Committee Chairs suspend Committee elections until 2021 citing public health concerns, essentially gifting themselves a full year of elected office without a public vote, despite available alternatives.
By David Todd McCarty | Monday, March 23, 2020
In a move than stunned many observers, Cape May County Democratic Party Committee Chairman Brendan Sciarra sent out a letter yesterday to all Committee members, explaining his decision to suspend Committee June elections for 2020, citing public health concerns.
“After reviewing the New Jersey Democratic State Committee’s recommendation for the change, the Cape May County Regular Democratic Executive Committee held an emergency telephone conference call on Saturday afternoon and unanimously agreed to postpone elections,” said Sciarra.
Critics of the unprecedented move maintain that this is simply a convenient way to avoid a challenge to Party leadership in a time when progressive groups have been moving against the establishment by working to recruit and elect new committee members.
“This highlights one of the biggest problems with how this committee is being run,” said Cape May County Indivisible Co-Chair Cassandra Gatelein. “All decisions are being made from the top down—and then everyone finds out after the fact. What is the point of even having a Committee when members are not allowed to vote?”
“Chairman Sciarra is fully aware that Cape May County Indivisible has been working hard to elect progressive Democrats to the County Committee,” said Gatelein. “This is an obvious attempt to delay our efforts and protect incumbent seats. It is shameful to exploit a crisis for your own political convenience. Sciarra did not consult with his municipal chairs before making this decision—I spoke to several of them personally over the weekend—nor did he seek input from the body of Committee members. He merely hopped on a call with his “executive board” and unsurprisingly they all agreed to protect their own seats by cancelling the election and extending their own terms. This is not democracy.”
“This is an obvious attempt to delay our efforts and protect incumbent seats. It is shameful to exploit a crisis for your own political convenience.”Cassandra Gatelein, Cape May County Indivisible
“The face-to-face interactions of candidates and voters in holding a county election for the nearly 250 Committee seats would jeopardize public health and safety as well as circumvent national, state, and local efforts in combating the coronavirus,” Sciarra said in a statement.
While multiple county chairs have made the decision to suspend elections, it was not a mandate from either the State Committee or the Governor, but a decision left up to county committees. The controversial move to suspend Committee elections was made despite Governor Phil Murphy’s Executive Order EO-105 allowing for both electronic signatures and electronic submission of petitions to the town clerk, thereby relieving the burden of face-to-face contact in order to fill and file petitions.
The Governor’s order specifically reads, “WHEREAS, allowing candidates to submit their petitions electronically, in addition to by hand delivery, will help limit unnecessary person-to-person contact; and WHEREAS, allowing voters to fill out and submit petitions electronically, so that candidates and campaigns need not physically gather petitions by going to individual voters in person, will help limit unnecessary person-to-person contact; and WHEREAS, the COVID-19 emergency will significantly hinder otherwise qualified candidates from meeting the nomination requirements set forth in N.J.S.A. 19:23-7, 19:23-11, 19:23-14, 19:23-15, 19:25-3, 19:34-8, and 19:24-4; and WHEREAS, temporarily modifying the requirements of N.J.S.A. 19:23-8, 19:23-14, 19:24-4, and 19:25-3 to allow for electronic submission of petitions is needed to keep voters engaged during this unprecedented crisis…”
“Just because we’re in a war against a virus…[this is] no time to shut democracy down,” Gov Murphy said. “We must continue to pursue the tenants of democracy, obviously the most sacred right associated with that is the right to vote. That’s a general promise we won’t waver from.”
Atlantic, Burlington, and Cape May Counties have elected to postpone both their County Committee elections, as well as their reorganization meetings scheduled for June, until 2021, effectively electing all incumbent Committee members, as well as the Executive Committee to an additional year in office without a vote.
“This sends the wrong message to community members who want to get involved in their political party and run for local office,” said Collingswood Committee Chair Kate Delaney. “We need an energized party in order to defeat Trump in 2020. We should not be shutting out new voices and talents.”
“Due to grassroots efforts here in Cape May County and statewide – there is a rising movement wonderful folks who are excited to participate in local government,” said Gatelein. “You would think our party leadership would embrace these progressive voices and let them help build the party. Instead, they are being shut out of the process, and have been for quite some time. This is what happens when party leadership is more concerned with preserving power and control than having an open and fair democratic process.”