Judge: 1,900 NJ ballots whose envelopes were opened early must be counted

TRENTON, N.J. — A state judge on Friday ruled that some 1,900 mail ballots in a New Jersey county whose envelopes were prematurely opened should be accepted and counted.

Superior Court Judge Michael J. Blee ruled from the bench in the case involving 1,909 mail ballots in southern New Jersey’s Atlantic County. The order could decide the outcome of the Democratic primary in the race for the state’s 2nd Congressional District, where businessman Joe Salerno holds a 400-vote lead over attorney Tim Alexander in unofficial results.

Blee said the ballots should be tallied because state laws should be interpreted to allow for the greatest scope of the public’s participation.

“It is well settled in the state of New Jersey that election laws should be construed liberally,” he said.

But the judge had sharp words for how the circumstances — the details of which remained murky even after two board of elections officials testified on Friday — arose.

“Admittedly what happened this election was sloppy,” Blee said. “It was an inadvertent error. It was an inexcusable error.”

The issue revolved around state law permitting county election officials to open mail ballots five days before an election day.

In the case before the

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