A Very Appropriate Case for Election Day, November 8

Since today, November 8, is Election Day, what better case could there be to highlight than In re Contest of November 8, 2005, 192 N.J. 546 (2007)?  Not only did that case involve an election on November 8, the Court’s 3-2 decision was issued on November 8, 2007.  Justice Hoens wrote the majority opinion, which Chief Justice Rabner and Justice Long joined.  Justice Rivera-Soto, joined by his South Jersey colleague, Justice Wallace, dissented.

The essence of the case was about the pleading standards for an election contest pleading.  The Appellate Division had concluded that “our modern pleading rules can be engrafted onto the [election contest] statute’s requirements so as to permit the [election contest] petition to be equated with a complaint, and thereofre to be tested against liberal notice pleading concepts.”  The majority rejected this idea, stating that “[a]n election contest petition is not a complaint, the purpose of which is to give one’s adversary notice of the claim.”  On the other hand, however, the majority found it inappropriate, “in light of the significant changes in the relevant statutory provisions governing election contests and petitions, to scrutinize such a petition against standards of pleading with particularity long ago discarded from the statute.”  After detailing the history of the statute, the majority concluded that the petition was sufficient for the case to move to the discovery phase.

The dissenters agreed that the Appellate Division had erred in applying liberal pleading rules.  Justices Rivera-Soto and Wallace would, however, have rejected the petition as insufficient.

Justice Hoens began her opinion for the majority as follows: “Free and fair elections are the foundation on which our democracy rests.  The right to vote, and to have one’s vote counted, both cherished and fundamental to our way of life.”  It is to be hoped that everyone eligible to vote today has taken the opportunity to cast a ballot.