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UPDATED: Cwerner Seeking School Runoff Election with Priti Shah

Cost of special election unknown. Former school board member seeks to challenge disqualification of two votes.

Former school board member Bev Cwerner, whose two-vote loss to candidate Priti Shah was again certified in a on May 19 at the county Board of Elections Office, will seek to challenge the disqualification of two votes in court, her attorney announced on Friday evening.

If a state Superior Court hearing upholds Cwerner's contention that two absentee votes were "erroneously" rejected as valid by the Board of Elections, then the election would be tied, and a runoff election between the two candidates should be scheduled, attorney Kevin Orr said in an email sent to the Basking Ridge Patch.

INFO. ADDED: When asked on Tuesday, School Business Administrator Nick Markarian said he does not know the cost for a special election. He said the April 27 school election cost the district $6,500 _ including poll workers' salaries and use of the voting machines _ but he added he does not know if the cost of a more limited election would be less.

Markarian said he had never conducted a runoff election in this district, or another.

The certified vote count from the April school election now stands at 1,193 votes for Shah, and 1,191 for Cwerner, who was an incumbent candidate.

Cwerner said on Tuesday morning she not want to add to the words of her attorney.

Orr said the Board of Elections had "erroneously" concluded that the signatures Won two absentee ballots were not the same as the signatures on the voters' records, and had rejected those ballots. "Both voters have since attested that they, in fact, signed their own ballots," and joined as petitioners in a court action that on Friday had been filed by Cwerner, Orr said.

Earlier on Friday, Cwerner had filed a petition with state Superior Court in Somerville, seeking to set aside the vote certification for Shah, Orr said. He said Superior Court Judge Yolanda Ciccone had set a court date of June 7 to determine whether the challenge for the vote petition will proceed to a trial on June 9.

If a tie is declared, the result would be a special runoff election between Cwerner and Shah, Orr said.

"School Board election laws provide that any runoff must occur within 60 days of the original election, by June 27, 2011," Orr said in an email.

In unofficial results released on April 27, Shah had trailed Cwerner, an incumbent candidate, by 17 votes for the third of three positions available on the Board of Education this year. Two other candidates, Linda Wooldridge and incumbent Susan McGowan, had decisively been elected to two seats, in an election where nine candidates had competed for three spots on the school board.

After counting provisional ballots submitted on election day, the Board of Elections had with a four-vote lead. That lead was later reduced to had not been counted, and Cwerner filed a court motion seeking a recount, performed by hand at the county Board of Elections in Somerville.

Shah already was sworn onto the along with Wooldridge and McGowan.

At that time, school Business Administrator Nick Markarian said the school board would comply with an revisions to the results as determined by the county Board of Elections and law.

Laura May 30, 2011 at 08:46 PM
That's why the judge gets to decide in accordance with statutes designed for this very purpose. And if there is a runoff, Andrew, Shah would be ill advised to associate her campaign with someone like you who doesn't believe in the electoral or judicial laws of this country and personally attacks a candidate for legally pursuing their rights- that truly would make a difference to a lot of people.
LisaB May 30, 2011 at 10:19 PM
I agree wholeheartedly with the people who feel that we should let the process run its course. From what I have read, it seems that legitimate votes for Cwerner were tossed out. The reporting so far has seemed to indicate that faulty handwriting analysis may be at the root of the problem. If that is the case, it is certainly not Cwerner's fault. Whether I voted for her or not (which I am not divulging), I know she has been a very hard-working board member. She has invested a significant amount of her time in what must be a fairly stressful endeavor, and I think she is well within her rights to make sure the vote is counted accurately. I think it is very easy for people who may never themselves have done anything of significance for the community to complain and call "sour grapes." It is unfortunate that there will be extra cost involved. (Of course, if our local clerk of courts would allow school elections to be held in the schools, then that cost could be minimized.) If a run-off must be held because it is determined that Cwerner votes were incorrectly thrown out, it is no more her fault than it is Shah's if they are tied after the ballots in question are reviewed.
n May 30, 2011 at 10:25 PM
Hey! I'm objective too! lol
SZ May 30, 2011 at 11:26 PM
Why would someone go to the trouble of hiring an attorney for a volunteer BOE position? I hope it is her money paying for it. What an absolute waste of taxpayer money! I'm with Andrew, Sara, Jim and whoever else thinks this is absolutely ridiculous. She asked for a recount, got it, didn't like the answer and will go to thees lengths for a volunteer BOE position. I will support all efforts to get Shah elected, if it comes to that.
Sarah May 30, 2011 at 11:32 PM
Andrew you're right to sign off -- no logic in the world will sway the discussion. She will not stop the lawyers or the process until she is deemed the winner. I will email you and join you with dollars and resources too. Let's hope it doesn't get to that. I spoke with dozens of people including a few of the none candidates and the majority of them will go above and beyond to support Shah. I will be signing off too and will be on touch.
SZ May 31, 2011 at 12:04 AM
me too - I will email Andrew to join efforts to support Shah.
M May 31, 2011 at 05:09 PM
This is what you've spent your Memorial Day vacation doing? Enough of this back and forth already. How about thinking about the people who lost their lives for us to live in this FREE country. Give it a rest with the back and forth, what will be, will be
elgee May 31, 2011 at 07:09 PM
What nobody has mentioned is that it costs taxpayers a lot of money to train a new board member. The training is extensive and intense. Cwerner has been on the board for years and knows the ins and outs. There will be no learning curve. If voters want her on the board--and there are MANY of us who do--it will save us money in the long run to keep her.
Pete June 01, 2011 at 12:32 PM
What a waste of taxpayer dollars.
TJ June 01, 2011 at 01:34 PM
I voted for both candidates. If we vote again then I will vote for Shah. If the vote counters were consistent and fair with their methodology then we should go with their final tally. And I disagree with the argument that we should keep Cwerner because she knows the system. There's another new board member so they can be trained at the same time. I have attended a number of BOE meetings, and while I liked Cwerner -- she asked many more questions and I don't ever remember her providing many answers. So I don't see her as a BOE leader. To be honest, I always felt that she was still learning too -- which is fine, but that doesn't support the argument that she was up to speed.
HG June 01, 2011 at 02:09 PM
I think she should run in the next election; however, if it were MY vote that wasn't counted, I would be screaming and yelling until it was counted. It is not a waste of taxpayer dollars to ensure that voters are not disenfranchised as it appears has occurred here. Spend a few minutes thinking about how you would feel if your vote were tossed because your 20-year old signature differs from your signature today or some poll worker didn't follow the correct procedure. I know how I would feel.
HBSR June 01, 2011 at 11:05 PM
Hmmmmm.... Wonder why would anybody wait until the last day to ask for a recount, pay the lawyers hefty fees to het a recount (unless the lawyer is doing it for free), not be satisfied with two recounts and still asks for another recount/re election at the cost of tax payers money (unless she is funding the re-elections) as she is so desperate to serve the community. Tax payers who are concerned about your money getting wasted in such matters please send out an email to Valerie G. requesting her/the judge to try and stop our money getting used for the recount or the re-election. Also, people should realize Mrs. Shah is already trained as she got sworn in with the other members so the money is already spent. If Cwer er is so concerned about helping the community she can still do it by taking up another voluntary position at any of the schools or the BOE (that is still available).
N June 02, 2011 at 12:20 AM
This election has become a joke. Is Cwerner really working for the community or more interested in her own future? Agreed that several people want Cwerner but the verdict is out and more people voted for Shah.
n June 02, 2011 at 01:06 AM
That is something you should've thought of doing before you decided to reply.
n June 02, 2011 at 01:09 AM
If that is the case, maybe we shouldn't bother with any school board elections, just let them sit on the board until they get tired of it, then send someone else to the BOE. This way we can really save on their training......NOT!
PeopleHaveSpoken June 02, 2011 at 01:40 AM
Ms. Cwerner needs to search from within herself and find why she is causing this (unbelievable) circus. Cwerner, on a daily basis, is generating much discussion, within our community, about her true intentions for serving on the BOE. What is it that is so important to/for her to be in THIS (BOE) position? If Cwerner is a person of integrity, and has the best interest of the children, the taxpayers and another human being that is trying to serve the community as an elected volunteer BOE member named Priti Shah; Ms. Cwerner would CONCEDE NOW.
Laura June 02, 2011 at 02:57 AM
Wow- the more some of you folks launch these personal attacks against Cwerner to try to pressure her withdrawal makes me wonder why you are so reluctant to allow a judge to rule on the case of the two voters who had their absentee ballots rejected. Is this an effort to suppress the legitimate vote? Are you afraid your candidate would lose in a head to head run-off? This professed outrage is so disproportionate to what's actually happening- this isn't exactly Gore v. Bush. Something is fishy here...
VD June 02, 2011 at 03:39 AM
Hey if Cwerner can fight for what she believes is right, i would want her in Trenton on behalf of our schools....
Miles June 02, 2011 at 10:47 AM
"people have spoken"...no they haven't, my vote was not counted!!! It was thrown out because someone in Somerville decided that my signature did not match the one on file. I deserve to have my vote counted just as yours was.
IMHO June 02, 2011 at 11:55 AM
Am I the only one who smells something "fishy" here with this situation. This a volunteer postion, why the fight to keep it? Cwerner is "lawyered up". Her attorney is Kevin Orr, isn't that the same name of the chairman of the Planning Board? Does anyone else think this is avery cozy situation? Are a few members of the school and/or planning board afraid that their tight circle are in jeopardy? Perhaps we can get a investigation going as to who else is in on this? Which group of school board members vote in lockstep? Which no bid contracts get approved year in, year out, that mostly invisible to tax payers? Any other "funny" business??? Come on, lets start googling who's who and see what else we can find out. This is whole situation smells....
David June 02, 2011 at 01:06 PM
Runoff !!!!!
TJ June 02, 2011 at 01:10 PM
You're getting personal attacks confused with professional criticism. She may personally be a wonderful person. But "professionally" (and I use quotes b/c this is a VOLUNTEER position that she's creating this ruckus about) she's making questionable and concerning choices.
BRCIT June 02, 2011 at 02:04 PM
Lets keep counting....and counting.....and counting.....and counting.....and counting................ and counting ...............and counting.
n June 02, 2011 at 05:12 PM
Next time, vote at the polls. Write-in ballots seem to be 2nd class votes and if the person who uses write in ballots don't follow the directions, word for word, then maybe their vote should be forfeited. Just like the person who gets to the polls late.
n June 02, 2011 at 05:16 PM
Then run her as a candidate for State Senate, Kean won't mind, but for Bernards BOE, she is done.
HG June 02, 2011 at 08:54 PM
Actually "n", the assertion is that the voters followed the directions and "the Board of Elections had 'erroneously' concluded that the signatures on two absentee ballots were not the same as the signatures on the voters' records, and had rejected those ballots." If the assertion is true, these voters used a legal form of voting in a proper manner. Should they just shrug their shoulders and walk away? Would you?
Miles June 02, 2011 at 09:56 PM
n - I have been voting by mail for ten years and have NEVER had my ballot rejected because of my signature, so spare me the lecture on "follow the directions, word for word". I'd like to have my vote counted, just as yours was.
BR June 03, 2011 at 01:23 PM
Mail in votes are not "2nd class votes", they count equally as those votes taken at the polls. They are generally used by people who cannot or will not miss time at work to vote, those who cannot leave their home, those away for business or pleasure, and military men and women who are elsewhere in the world....preserving the right to vote.
n June 03, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Absentee votes are treated like 2nd class votes. Of course they are equal to any other legal vote, but they get much more screening than ones cast at a polling place, because they are prone to be tampered with easier and since the State has loosen the qualifications in order to get more people to vote, expect more people to have problems.
Lori June 03, 2011 at 10:57 PM
2nd class votes? ridiculous. by the way, there has never been ANY screening when I have voted at the polling booth. They just ask my name......no I.D. or verification. Pretty easy to vote multiple times, if you wanted to.

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