McKoy v. Mendez: The Paterson VBM Contest at the Heart of the Country

Mendez
McKoy
McKoy and Mendez, top.

 

PATERSON – The river flows out to the sea through this down-on-its-heels factory town, and so it is similarly that the vanities and promises, heartbreaks and inanities of this 2020 election too must dissolve in an oceanic mist at some point, probably not on Election Night, and yet not before some resolution occurs in the 3rd Ward, local scene of the specific alleged vote-by-mail fraud that President Donald J. Trump used to condemn the entire VBM process.

Amid national level wrangling about the course of this election, Trump tweeted: “Bad things happen with Mail-Ins. Just look at Special Election in Patterson, N.J. 19% of Ballots a FRAUD!” The tweet refers to the state Attorney General charging challenger Alex Mendez – and others – with fraud connected to the May 12th election, but Mendez appears on the Nov. 3rd ballot, on a judge’s ruling for a total do-over Councilman Bill McKoy versus Mendez election here.

The irony is that the alleged perpetrator of that fraud is so at odds at this point with the Democratic establishment in these parts, which includes Mayor Andre Sayegh, that his allies acknowledge a decided observable vote in Paterson that is fed-up with the party, and wants to go in another direction, from the top on down: in other words, a pro-Trump vote among (particularly younger) Latino voters, exorcised by Democrats’ attempts to steamroll Mendez. It’s anecdotal, but Mendez, who admittedly is obsessed with his own contest, is hardly keen on affiliating with Democratic contender Joe Biden.

To date, the clerk has processed 6,703 ballots in the 3rd Ward ahead of Tuesday.

The original fraud case, according to the AG’s Office, related to the improper collection of mail-in ballots, said the AG. Generally speaking, a voter who receives a mail-in ballot completes the ballot themselves and then returns the ballot by mailing it, placing it in a specially designated “drop box,” or delivering it to the County Board of Elections. However, New Jersey also allows a voter to provide the completed ballot to a “bearer,” who must complete the bearer certification on the ballot envelope in the presence of the voter and then return the ballot on behalf of the voter.  Under state law, a bearer may collect and deliver ballots for no more than three voters in an election, and a candidate in the election is never permitted to serve as a bearer.

On the soggy last Sunday prior to Election Day in a ward campaign seemingly without end, InsiderNJ connected with both Mendez and incumbent McKoy, as they made their last ditch appeals to voters along the Highway 20 corridor, against the backdrop of a national-sized elections canvas.

“I brought the civil suit that led to the judge’s ruling that Alex Mendez could not take the seat because he had not earned it,” McKoy said. “This contest is limited to the original folks who were on the ballot in May. There was sufficient evidence to overturn that election, with [VBM] ballots found all over the place. I understand that he has a right to a fair trial. I also understand that the attorney general, the highest legal authority in New Jersey, will not take a case lightly in calling someone a criminal even before a trial. They must have some substantial evidence to levy the charges they have, including second degree charges, which comes with the presumption of some jail time.”

A 20-year incumbent with a record that includes shepherding commercial development along the highway, McKoy acknowledged that the public doesn’t always understand the nuances – but he trusts they will render a just verdict by condemning Mendez – and not the entire process, as Trump does in his routine finger point at Paterson.

“The courts are reluctant to affect the outcome of an election,” said the councilman. “If the voters know they [Mendez and those others alleged to have committed ballot fraud] have been charged with these crimes, they have to choose.

McKoy
McKoy

 

“I’m always confident with the voters’ choice,” McKoy added. “I’m confident they will choose proven leadership to the bitter end. They will return a favorable verdict.”

But what Trump using the Mendez case specifically to detonate the whole VBM process?

“The president has his point of view, and this was a way to strengthen his argument,” McKoy said. “I don’t believe the VBM process is lacking. The governor has strengthened the process.

“If you’re going to throw out someone’s vote, as Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly’s (D-35) vote was discarded in the last election, the governor is requiring the Board of Elections to notify the voter that their signature did not match and give a chance to cure that. We are still vulnerable to unscrupulous folks; there is always someone who feels they’re above the law. However, I am confident that the authorities, including the local prosecutor and the state attorney general’s office are monitoring this case. Just as they were able to charge them the first time, they would do the same if that practice continues.

“I would encourage him [Mendez] to look inward,” McKoy added. “He will have some time to sit by himself and ponder that issue.”

A short time earlier at a location near where McKoy walked and communicated with voters, Mendez came across a Dunkin Donuts parking lot.

He stopped by a car on the drive-thru line and stretched an arm inside.

“I totally disagree,” he said moments later, in reference to Trump’s assessment of vote-by-mail.

“Vote-by-mail is a safe way of voting,” added the challenger. “I’m going to continue to encourage every Patersonian to continue to vote. They use this as a political speech. But [the voters] they’re not going to stay home because of that.”

To what extent is there a hidden Trump voter, who might be trying to stick it to the Democratic Party establishment by backing a president who condemns generally – not specifically – the process in which Mendez and his allies allegedly illegally engaged? “My feeling is the community is move involved than ever,” he said. “We have more than 6k people who have already voted.”

Mendez has maintained from the start that he was a political target who did nothing wrong, and he expects to be acquitted. He says the people see through the charade. “I’m very confident about my support,” he told InsiderNJ. “They see my work. I never stopped supporting the community. After all that they see, we have to go out and support Alex Mendez in this election.

“A lot of people are upset with the party because they see how hard the party is running against me,” added the former at-large councilman who came in second in the 2018 mayoral race. “For years they have been fighting against me. That will affect the party. They’re fighting so hard against me because the person running against me is a rubber stamp for their administration and their plans – their political agenda. My goal is the community and that’s a problem for them.”

Campaigning during the COVID pandemic created significant challenges and the challenger said to better battle the virus, “we have to increase the amount of testing sites. The numbers are going up tremendously.

“Please vote early,” he added, as he hurried off, he said, to church.

Mendez
Mendez

 

 

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