Thanks to the withdrawal, the original result allowing city rent control codes to remain unchanged will stand.
The referendum, which appeared on the 2013 ballot for the second consecutive year, asked whether the city should take apartments in buildings with four or fewer units off of rent control once a current tenant moves out. Buildings with five or more units would go back under control when a new tenant moves in paying the new rent. The referendum was defeated by 122 votes.
But, as it did in 2012, the result went to court after the Mile Square Taxpayers Association (MSTA) filed suit alleging that the Hudson County Board of Elections had unconstitutionally thrown out over 300 vote-by-mail ballots. In 2012, the group was able to overturn as similar election result by arguing that several residents had been displaced by Hurricane Sandy, and forced a new referendum. But they were unsuccessful in the new referendum as well.
Vote-by-mail issue comes into play
One issue that may have scuttled the court effort was the number of vote-by-mail ballots that were used during the vote. These mail-in ballots have long been an issue of contention in Hoboken elections, and were at the heart of the latest court proceedings (voter fraud has been alleged in local elections for years). MSTA’s withdrawal came soon after the judge presiding over the case issued an order saying that for the case to move forward, each of the Hoboken citizens whose votes were in question would have to testify.
A spokesman for the MSTA said that the group withdrew its claims due to the “impossibility of sustaining [those] requirements.”
“This is an incredible moment of bias,” said Ron Simoncini, a spokesman for MSTA. “None of these voters was under trial – the decision by the County Board of Elections was. We feel that this ruling is a complete miscarriage of justice, especially in that it was overtly won through uncorroborated testimony by politically-motivated witnesses.”
Multiple campaign workers for the group Let the People Decide, a political action committee that worked to collect vote-by-mail ballots, testified as to how exactly they gathered ballots in November, which led to the judge’s requirement to bring the voters to the stand.
Simoncini, who noted that several of the voters used the vote-by-mail system because they were sick or elderly, argued that the judge’s requirement violated a voter’s right to privacy.
“Under the court’s ruling, each of more than 180 voters would have had to appear in court, violating their right to anonymously vote while suffering inconvenience and loss of work time. Many of these voters voted by mail because they are not English speaking and they do not feel comfortable visiting the polls,” he said.
Cheryl Fallick, a spokeswoman for the Hoboken Fair Housing Association (HFHA), the tenants’ group which has fought for the past few years to preserve city rent control codes in their current form, said that she felt the decision by her attorney to question vote gatherers thrust Hoboken’s vote-by-mail issues into the open, giving the judge no choice but to require each voter’s testimony.
“We feel very grateful to Renee Steinhagen for her efforts on behalf of HFHA and all Hoboken voters to meet the city’s voter fraud problem head on in an effort to protect our second election victory in as many years,” Fallick said on Wednesday.
For more on the issues, see this weekend’s Hoboken Reporter. For our prior coverage, see stories linked below. – Dean DeChiaro