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Atlantic City mayoral candidate Tom Foley sues to stop vote-by-mail application appointments
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Atlantic City mayoral candidate Tom Foley sues to stop vote-by-mail application appointments

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Democratic Atlantic City mayoral candidate Tom Foley is seeking an injunction against what he claims is a requirement at the Atlantic County Clerks’ Office that messengers make 15-minute appointments to apply for vote-by-mail applications for other voters.

Foley filed a civil action lawsuit in Atlantic County Superior Court on Friday seeking an end to the practice and an extension of hours of the Clerk’s Office before Tuesday’s election.

The suit claims “mass voter disenfranchisement and suppression is occurring, and ... Defendants are violating the civil rights of the people of Atlantic County.”

The Lento Law Group, of Mount Laurel, filed the suit against Superintendent of Elections Maureen Bugdon, Atlantic County Clerk Edward McGettigan, Deputy Atlantic County Clerk Michael Sommers and the Atlantic County Board of Elections.

Sommers denied the clerk’s office was restricting messengers and said he was unaware of the lawsuit when contacted Friday afternoon.

“We haven’t turned any messengers away during this election,” Sommers said, adding he cannot comment further until he speaks to legal counsel.

According to the suit, the clerk’s office has “implemented arbitrary and prohibitive procedures ... specifically, the defendants have begun to require appointments for the processing of applications for mail-in ballots by authorized messengers.”

The suit says the new rule cannot be related to COVID-19 restrictions because the office “has never required appointments for the processing of such applications ... in the past, including during the Presidential Election in November 2020, when COVID-19 was at its peak.”

There is nothing about appointment requirements specifically for mail-in ballot applications on the clerk’s website. However, there is a notice that appointments are required “for all county clerk services ... due to current limited access to our building.”

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It directs anyone seeking the clerk’s passport, notary and trade name services to call ahead for an appointment.

The clerk’s office is where people go to apply for mail-in ballots for themselves, or where people designated by voters as authorized messengers go to apply for mail-in ballots to take to another voter.

A spokesman for Lento Law said there was a 3:30 p.m. hearing Friday, and the judge scheduled another hearing for 2 p.m. Monday.

The suit asks the court to find that the constitutional rights of the people of Atlantic City have been violated by the defendants, and that Foley’s rights have been violated. It also asks the court to order defendants “to immediately lift the appointment requirement and imposed time constraint with respect to the processing of mail-in ballot applications for authorized messengers” and to extend the hours of operation for the clerk’s office to 8 p.m. to allow more time for voters to get mail-in ballots processed in time for the June 8 election.

Lento also represents political organizer and Foley supporter Craig Callaway in his legal fights with Democratic incumbent Mayor Marty Small Sr., and represents the mother of a child sexually abused by a former substitute teacher in her suit against Marty and La’Quetta Small, the Atlantic City Board of Education and others.

Callaway has for years run get-out-the-vote efforts via mail-in ballots, using messengers to pick up large numbers of ballots.

He personally assisted at least 125 people with filling out requests for new or replacement mail-in ballots in the waning days of the November election, according to a complaint sent to the state Attorney General’s Office.

The ballots were virtually all delivered to voters via messengers and returned via drop boxes around the county from mid-October to Election Day, according to data from the Atlantic County Board of Elections.

Callaway has said there is no legal limit on the number of ballot applications with which a registered voter may assist.

“If that’s a problem, they need to change the law. I’m in compliance,” Callaway said last month when asked about the complaint.

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:

609-272-7210

mpost@pressofac.com

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Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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