The Passaic County Board of Elections today nullified over 800 vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots, after 300 of those ballots turned up in a Haledon mailbox, and 500 surfaced in several other locations in Paterson.
“They are being set aside,” said County Spokesman Keith Furlong.
“U.S. Postal authorities informed the Passaic County Board of Elections about bundled vote-by-mail ballots within their possession,” he added. These ballots have been delivered to the county and set aside. Board of Elections Commissioners will determine tomorrow whether these ballots will be counted. Any potential irregularities will be handed off to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.”
The votes, according to the commissioners, will not count toward the elections until fully reviewed, and the fact stands clear at the end as to why those votes were bound together and concentrated in one or several places. According to a source close to the commissioners, who said law enforcement (including the FBI) has been in the city watching the VBM elections unfold, the suspicion is either that a third party intercepted the ballots between the clerk’s office sending them and the actual voters receiving them, filled them out, and sought to mail them; or someone harvested the ballots and then illegally – because the limit for a messenger is three ballots – conveyed them bound to the Haledon Post Office (and a few others) for delivery.
Ward Three Council candidate Alex Mendez is pushing back hard. Noting that his campaign is directly impacted by the commissioners’ decision, Mendez said he intends to fight for the inclusion of some 600 VBM ballots. “This is very clearly voter suppression,” said Mendez, who’s running in one of the city’s marquee competitive contests against incumbent Councilman Bill McKoy. The candidate said he plans to engage his lawyer and is mulling holding a press conference this evening, even as the deadline passed for voters to submit their vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots in the historic, all-vote-by-mail (VBM) election.
A Mendez ally unsuccessfully tries to gain access to the Passaic County Board of Elections.
According to published news reports, including this one in The Paterson Times, law enforcement authorities are investigating how the ballots in question ended up concentrated in several mailboxes, including the one in Haledon.
McKoy, for his part, was disturbed by the situation.
“Just from what we read in the paper, we know that 300 ballots were found bound together in Haledon, which very strongly suggests the appearance of voter fraud,” said the councilman. “It’s not that these were loose. This is not 300 people who went to Haledon. You’re only allowed to carry a maximum of three votes. My presumption is the Board of Elections and federal law enforcement authorities will be investigating.”
He upbraided Mendez for claiming a connection to the ballots in question.
“The councilman needs to get a dictionary and look up voter suppression,” said McKoy. “There will be no illegal votes cast and no illegally harvesting. Let’s get the terminology straight and let’s find out what happened. How did these ballots accumulated and get bound together in one place, at one time – and by whom? If Mendez has an idea, I’m sure the authorities will be very willing to hear his explanation. This is not voter suppression. Voter suppression is when you are pushing people away from voting. That’s not happened here. Here, people were encouraged to vote. This is contrary. This is a clear violation of the rules. This is about the integrity of the process. Harvesting illegally is disenfranchising voters. I find it very troubling that seems not to understand, and, in fact, that he would affiliate himself with these votes.
“Those votes are not of anybody associated or affilated with me,” McKoy added. “I find it interesting that he is excited by the exclusion of these ballots. If he knows something, he should step forward.”
Mendez’s attorney issued a statement on Tuesday night.
“It is nothing short of outrageous that over 800 voters are intended to be disenfranchised on the say so of what appears to be one person,” said Gregg Paster, attorney for candidates Mendez, Ramon Joaquin, and Eddie Olivares. “This election is a sham, regardless of who are the ultimate victors and this process has to be reviewed by the courts to address the deficiencies in the planning and execution of the election.”
The bombshell story – complete with multiple law enforcement agencies supposedly crawling around the city – landed in the middle of an already searing nonpartisan cycle, pitting the council allies of Mayor Andre Sayegh against rivals in at least four wards, including the First.
An attorney for three candidates blasted the decision to nullify the 800 VBMs. From Paterson Times: “It is nothing short of outrageous that over 800 voters are intended to be disenfranchised on the say so of what appears to be one person,” said Gregg Paster, attorney for candidates Alex Mendez, Ramon Joaquin, and Eddie Olivares. “This election is a sham, regardless of who are the ultimate victors and this process has to be reviewed by the courts to address the deficiencies in the planning and execution of the election.”