In his October 24 ruling in the matter of Cape May City v. Rita Marie Fulginiti, Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez balanced the City of Cape May's future concerns of staying or separating from the Lower Cape May Regional School District with the county's present and emergent concerns to host a fair election for all of the county's voters on November 5. Bottom line: the ballots will not be reprinted, but the question will not be counted.
Although Judge Mendez did not find statutory support to keep the non-binding question on the ballot before the voters of Cape May, Lower Township and West Cape May, the municipalities comprising the Lower Cape May Regional School District, he allowed the printed ballots to remain in use for the voters. Had a reprinting been ordered, the cost to taxpayers would have been $8,928 to reprint all of the types of paper ballots for the school district.
Sample, mail-in, machine, provisional and emergency ballots containing the question had already been printed before the City of Cape May notified the County Clerk's Office on October 8 of their objection to the non-binding Regional School Question.
Mail-in Ballot voters will continue to receive ballots which contain the blocked question and a notice to the voter that the question cannot be voted. Mail-in Ballots have been out to the voters since September 18 in compliance with the Federal Move Act, which requires that county clerks begin mailing ballots for federal elections at least 45 days prior to the election. The results of the Mail-In Ballot tally of the Lower Regional Question will not be part of the official certified canvass of the vote for the General Election.
Per court order, the Regional School Question will be covered over in the voting machines in the Lower Regional School District and notices will be posted in the polling places regarding the removal of the question from the ballot.
In the furor leading up to the lawsuit and the judge's decision, County Clerk Fulginiti stressed that the referendum question on the ballot, "Whether the City of Cape May should be allowed to withdraw from the Lower Cape May Regional School District or, in the alternative, should the Lower Cape May School District be dissolved," was non-binding. The attorney for the City of Cape May said the ballot did not make clear that it is non-binding and the overall language as written is confusing.
Not everyone is happy with the judge's decision. Lower Township Solicitor Charles Sandman said, "I find it hard to believe any governing body would file suit to keep its own voters from weighing in on an issue this important, especially when it's non-binding."
Lower Township Mayor Michael Beck agreed. "We don't fault the judge, we fault Cape May City, their council, not the people of Cape May," he said. "One would think that it would be important for that referendum to go through so that their residents would have the chance to let them know whether they favor withdrawing from the school district or not, because we're going to spend an awful lot of money now that this court case has been resolved.
"I think our school board put the referendum on there because they felt a lot of people in Cape May really were against what was happening there. It's just a shame because they had an opportunity to see what their voters really felt about this and maybe it would have given them a way to get out of this gracefully, but now it's not going to happen."