Daily Record, Morris County, New Jersey
Morris: Outside aid could help solve election quirks
BY MARIA ARMENTAL
DOVER -- Morris County Board of Elections officials are considering stationing all out-of-town poll workers in Dover next year to avoid election irregularities that have long plagued the small town, officials said Thursday.
Officials received numerous complaints of electioneering and other irregularities during Tuesday's general elections, such as a worker who was hired by the county to be a translator but was told by other poll workers not to speak Spanish to voters.
John Sette, chairman of the Morris County Board of Elections, said that in past years election officials even found spouses of town candidates serving as poll workers in Dover, which is not allowed.
That, he said, had been addressed. But knowing Dover's history, election officials stationed two detectives from the Morris County Prosecutor's Office in town on Tuesday and urged all poll workers to call the local police department if they felt threatened, Sette said.
Election officials received at least three complaints from Dover Tuesday regarding electioneering, or campaigning within 100 feet from a polling location, which is illegal.
A complaint was also filed with police alleging harassment at a polling place.
"They take their politics seriously there in Dover,"Sette said.
The stakes were high, as four seats of the nine-member Board of Aldermen, the local governing body, were up for election, as well as the mayor's seat.
The translator's problem appears to be related to a distrust based on the different political affiliations of poll workers.
Idali Ramos -- who was hired by the county election board to act as a translator at the Millpond Towers senior complex poll site in Dover's 1st Ward -- said when several voters asked her in Spanish to help them with the voting process, the other poll workers told her she was not allowed to speak Spanish because the poll workers wouldn't know whether she was instructing voters to vote for a particular candidate or party.
"They came to me and said, 'I'm sorry to tell you, but you are not allowed to speak Spanish,'" Ramos said.
"People begged me to please explain to them how to work the machines and (the poll workers) said, 'No, you cannot explain it to them in Spanish,'" Ramos added. "So, what's my job there?"
Ramos, a first-time poll worker, said she was led to believe that those were the rules and proceeded to attempt to explain the voting process in English to those Spanish-speaking voters who request assistance.
Ramos said about six to eight Spanish-speaking voters had approached her Tuesday.
"But I imagine in other places there may be some people who also had the same problem," she said.
Election officials said this was the first such complaint they had.
Sette said all poll workers were trained and told that they were to call the Board of Elections with any questions or problems.
Ramos "was doing her job as a translator," Sette said. "I wish someone would have called the Board of Elections and told us."
With the elections already over, Sette said there was nothing left to investigate about the allegation.
"The poll workers were trained. They've been doing this for 30 years, (but) they still make mistakes," Sette said, adding "a light should have gone on in her head and said, 'I should call the Board of Elections.'"
In the future, he said, "we will make sure that she understands what she has to do."
Federal voting law requires districts to provide translated voting materials and other aids, such as translators, when a number of U.S. citizens of voting age in a single language group is more than 10,000 or more than 5 percent of all voting-age citizens in that jurisdiction. In Dover, a large number of residents are Spanish-speaking.
As for the harassment complaint, Carlos Matías, chairman of the Republican Club in Dover who was acting as a challenger for Freeholder Margaret Nordstrom, said he filed the complaint after Democratic Alderman Richard Newman said "I'll take you outside" and "I'll take you out."
"It was actually a terroristic threat, and the police failed to arrest him," Matías said Thursday.
Town police Capt. Robert Kerwick confirmed that a harassment complaint had been filed. According to the report, Kerwick said, the confrontation began when Matías challenged Newman's vote on the grounds of residency.
Newman is a life-long town resident who has served various terms as mayor and alderman since the 1970s.
Thursday, Matías denied that he challenged Newman's vote over residency. He said he challenged Newman's vote and that of a woman after Newman engaged in conversations with her before she cast her ballot and with some of the poll workers. While Newman was not a candidate this year, everyone knows he is a Democrat and was supporting that party's candidates, said Matías.
"It just creates a distraction and actually impedes the voting process," Matías said. "And to a certain extent, it changes the voting process by speaking to other voters who did not vote."
Sette characterized such challenges as "ridiculous," noting challengers can only challenge a vote if they believe that the voter is not eligible to vote due to residency, citizenship status, or age, for example, or if they believe there has been a violation of election law.
Maria Armental can be reached at (973) 989-0652 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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