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ATLANTIC CITY — The state attorney general and the lawyer representing the Atlantic City Democratic Committee are in a legal battle over how the May 12 special election will be conducted.

In a letter filed in court Monday, Samuel Lashman, attorney for the city’s Democratic Committee, wrote that, under the circumstances of the pandemic, it did not object to changing the date of the election from the original March 31 date to May 12.

“It is extremely questionable, and probably nonexistent, that the governor has the authority to postpone an election already in progress, but ACDC did not object to that,” Lashman wrote. “ACDC objects to any and all other changes or ‘suspensions’ of law than the date.”

At issue, though, is the time voters will have to make a decision and vote by mail, as well as what should happen to nearly 1,180 ballots already cast in the change of government referendum before Gov. Phil Murphy postponed the special election.

Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez is expected to issue a decision by the end of business Wednesday.

Because of Murphy’s order, all registered voters in Atlantic City will receive a mail-in ballot with paid return postage. The ballots will be mailed out no later than April 24. All voters must be registered by April 21 to receive a ballot.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, in a brief filed Friday on behalf of the secretary of state and the Atlantic County Board of Elections, said if two ballots from the same voter are returned, only the second one will count.

“(The vote-counting procedure) is consistent with past practice any time a second ballot must be issued for an election and ensures maximum voter enfranchisement,” Grewal wrote. “Therefore, the court should not substitute its judgment, nor (the Atlantic City Democratic Committee’s) judgment, for that of the (county) Board (of Elections). The board is vested with the sole discretion of which ballots to count in the first instance and only goes to the court in the event of a tie on an individual ballot.”

Lashman argued the shortened time frame between when ballots are mailed and the date of the election — a scant 18 days — is “insufficient” compared with the 45 days required by election law.

He questioned in his filing whether Murphy had the authority to “suspend the election laws applying to the county clerks or the boards of election.”

“Neither the governor, nor anyone, has the power to invalidate legally cast votes under any circumstances by executive order or otherwise, and they can expect a challenge if that is done,” he wrote.

Election rules have been modified during prior emergencies, including by Gov. Thomas Kean in 1982 during a severe winter storm and by Gov. Chris Christie in 2012 in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. The changes under the executive order signed by Murphy for the upcoming elections are temporary.

Atlantic City Residents for Good Government has proposed a council-manager form of government, a change that would eliminate a directly elected mayor and reduce the number of City Council members from nine to five. A city manager, appointed by the five at-large council members, would be the city’s chief executive and responsible for its day-to-day operations. After three years, the city manager can only be removed for cause by the council.

The change would also eliminate residents’ right to initiative and referendum, which is granted under the Optional Municipal Charter Law form of government currently used. Atlantic City is one of 132 municipalities out of 565 in the state that have some form of an OMCL government.

The council-manager form of government being proposed is only used by seven municipalities in the state.

All 10 of Atlantic City’s elected officials — the mayor and the nine members of council — oppose the proposed change in the form of government, as do the Civic Associations of Atlantic City United, Atlantic County Freeholder Ernest Coursey (who represents the city on the county board and serves as Mayor Marty Small Sr.’s chief of staff) and the NAACP Atlantic City Chapter.

Former Mayor Don Guardian, Unite Here Local 54 President Bob McDevitt, Resorts Casino Hotel owner Morris Bailey, Resorts President/CEO Mark Giannantonio and former state Sen. Ray Lesniak support the change of government.

Contact: 609-272-7222

Twitter @ACPressDanzis

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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