MAYS LANDING - The state cannot unseal more than 300 ballots rejected during the Atlantic City mayoral primary that resulted in voter fraud charges against 14 people, a judge ruled Thursday.

The ballots were expected to aid the state's case against Atlantic City Councilman Marty Small and others who allegedly broke election laws when they were working to have Small become the Democratic candidate for mayor in 2009. Two men have pleaded guilty in the case, leaving 12 defendants.

Preparation began this week for the trial of Small and five others. The six remaining defendants likely will be tried next year.

Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten ruled that all the ballots could not be unsealed because it would infringe upon the rights of those voters, some of whom may have been rejected for reasons that include the votes coming in too late to be counted. But there is a chance that as many as 25 of those ballots still could be unsealed.

The state says it has statements from the voters whose names are on those ballots claiming that either they never voted or they were told who to vote for. A hearing will be held later this month to determine whether those ballots can be opened.

Jury selection has begun in the case and is expected to take about two weeks. The trial is expected to last eight to 12 weeks.

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