Castaneda primarily faces scrutiny over how — or even whether — he collected signatures for some of that town’s 58 Democratic Party county committee candidates including West New York town commissioners Cosmo Cirillo, Margarita Guzman and Gabriel Rodriguez. Cirillo, who’s rumored to be a possible challenger to Roque for mayor in next year’s municipal election, has denied involvement in any irregularities.
As an election lawyer (who is not involved with anyone in the County), I’ve been asked what the big deal is about these challenges to these nominating petitions for some candidates for Democratic Party County Committee coming out of West New York.
No one talks about one of the real, systemic problems with the petition process that controls who we see on the ballot in any election in New Jersey. The problem is that the petitions are all vulnerable to fraud. That’s because the very format of New Jersey petitions lends itself to abuse.
While preprinted and pre-bound (or pre-stapled) booklets manage to have the candidate name, signatures, candidate authorization and circulator or witness signature in the same booklet which, presumably, can’t be pulled apart, in the day and age of PDF documents and laser printers, the reality is petitions are now often individual sheets which are later assembled and which we are asked to believe were kept together when someone went around getting signatures.
In New York City, and in fact all of New York State, each petition page (of which the format is set forth by their election law) has the candidate name, voter signature and witness signature. That way, it is much harder to make the claims of petition fraud which essentially are being made in West New York now.
There really is no reason New Jersey cannot adopt a petition format similar to that in New York. Doing so would help New Jersey voters know which candidate they’re signing for. That reform, as well as instituting a Blockchain technology based electronic voting system, would help build the general public’s confidence in the integrity of the vote. While people might be disillusioned with their choices between competing clans of public employees here and there, at least they’ll have more faith in “the system.”