Rice and Wimberly Say Scrap this Mess: a May 12th VBM Post Mortem

If that was a trial run, then another all vote-by-mail election should not only be scrapped, but tied down, bazooked and nuked.

So says Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35) of Paterson, a city still hanging like an 8.7 square mile chad.

“It showed the concerns many of us had,” Wimberly told InsiderNJ.

Get rid of it, he added; and replace it on July 7th with a modified regular election.

“It gave corruption a chance to rear its head,” the assemblyman said, referring to the more than 800 VBM ballots impounded at the Passaic County Board of Elections Office. “We need to figure out how to get people to vote at the polls in the primary, whether by alphabet or district, whatever it takes to keep social districting . This[nonpartisan] election exposed some of the concerns we had. In fairness, nobody could have foreseen issues with the post office. But we have to have some aspect of hard copy vote in July.”

According to published news reports, including this one in The Paterson Times, law enforcement authorities are investigating how the Paterson ballots in question – many of them from the competitive Third Ward – ended up concentrated in several mailboxes, including one in Haledon.

Third Ward Councilman Bill McKoy, for his part, was disturbed by the situation, and inclined to see the

McKoy
McKoy

all-VBM election as an opportunity to feed an existing history of bad VBM behavior in his hometown.

“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.”

They are investigating.

If it has its own troubles compunded by COVID-19, however, Paterson, characterized by violence in the lead up and allegations of fraud in the aftermath, reinforces the argument by Wimberly – and McKoy – for another election direction – a shot at redemption – even as New Jersey tries to gingerly lumber through a season of COVID-19 suffering.

Governor Phil Murphy this afternoon stopped short of announcing his process plans for the July 7th

Murphy
Murphy

primary elections, a day after the May 12th nonpartisan elections. “It’s too early to give you a full answer,” the governor told reporters at the War Memoria in Trentonl. “We need to make a decision on the July 7th elections. We’re digesting [yesterday’s mixed bag all-VBM results] pretty aggressively.

“Especially related to July 7th [he would be surprised if he does not have an announcment] by the end of the week,” Murphy said.

Like his Legislative Black Caucus Colleague Wimberly, state Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28) wants as close to a routine election as possible as New Jersey’s COVID-19 crisis trends downward, according to today’s numbers.

“If it did anything at all, the election enhanced my opinion about getting people out to vote,” said Rice, citing low voter-turnout in Newark and Atlantic City. “Thank God Atlantic City did what they did [where he opposed a change of government), but it was still a low turnout.”

Rice wants voters physically at polling places on July 7th.

Rice
Rice

“We have to do this. People want to go out and vote. I’m not sure what the governor is going to do; the senate president may agree with me,” said the veteran lawmaker from Newark. “I don’t know what the speaker thinks, but I know the Legislative Black Caucus backs me. I think we should do as best as we can to have elections as we do ordinarily. We can implement best practices [to minimize people exposing themselves to the COVID-19 virus], like changing spacing of machines, but what I favor – particularly after yesterday – is a modified version of a regular election.”

While Wimberly and Rice are bullish on ditching the substitute VBM option, other colleagues see the potential for a mixed-use July Primary.

LD35 Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter of Paterson
Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-35).

 

“I’m pushing for a hybrid,” Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-35) said.

The assemblywoman sees Paterson’s schools as ready-made polling stations, and envisions cutting 70 sites down to maybe ten, just to retain that critical option of in-person voting. Ordinarily manned by (high COVID-19-risk) senior citizens, “work with the board of ed to maybe have teachers fulfill that function.”

“I would keep the VBM option for everyone,” she added, in a nod to the ongoing, un-stamped-out virus. “I understand it will create some confusion.” But given the circumstances, she can live with it, especially with what she sees as the strong enhancement of actual polling places for those who can get there.

Sumter has caucus allies in the hybrid-voting department.

“I think he should do a hybrid election,” veteran Assemblyman Tom Giblin (D-34) of Montclair, a labor

Giblin
Giblin

leader and former Democratic State Party chairman, told InsiderNJ when asked about what kind of process Governor Phil Murphy should apply to Primary Election Day.

The May 12th elections were all vote-by-mail (VBM).

“There were discrepancies in Irvington,” said Giblin (also in, of course, Paterson, Belleville and elsewhere). Based on what he observed of yesterday’s – often unresolved – results, the governor would be wise to open some polling sites, the assemblyman said. “The governor ought to give voters the option of going to the polls, and also allow voting by mail.” Reconfigure polling sites, maintain social distancing and step up best practices at the polls, Giblin suggested.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-28).
Caputo

Veteran Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-28) likewise said the May 12th all-VBM election showed significant wrinkles, and as Murphy prepares to make an announcement regarding the process of the July 7th primary elections, the assemblyman gave his opinion. “He’ll probably have a hybrid,” Caputo told InsiderNJ. “It will be combination: VBMs and polling places.”

The assemblyman did echo local woes in Belleville about the post office. “I think they have to work on their game,” the Nutley-based assemblyman said.

In that Essex County town, Mayor Mike Melham earlier this week reasserted his cae against the VBM

Melham

election and said if the nonpartisan contest was a case study for July, New Jersey is in trouble.

For Melham, it was mostly a case of Post Office mayhem.

“I called for a Federal investigation,” the mayor told InsiderNj earlier this week, “and the inspector general and postal police are currently in Belleville conducting and investing into missing and undelivered ballots.

“The post office is just inept,” he added. “The fact that we left democracy in the hands of the post office is just tragic.”

McKoy on Mondaytold InsiderNJ the governor would be ill-advised to go with another all-VBM election, and expressed an opinion nearly idenitical to that of Wimberly and Rice.

“They would have to do a major scrub and change it drastically to make it work,” the councilman said.

Even on top of the alleged scandal and investigation of impounded bundled ballots, he acknowledged a “ton of irregularities,”  including what he called a mixed bag on voter registration lists, which include dead people – one of whom McKoy said died 15 years ago. In addition, he said, a lot  of people have not received their ballots.

“There are a lot of extra votes floating in the community, which raises the level of concern,” McKoy said. “The Board of Elections will have to review the process they’re using. As for the Post Office, I understand they are under pressure, but they will have to step up their game.”

Would he advocate an all-VBM primary based on what he experienced in his own ward contest?

“I think the whole idea of affording everyone the opportunity to vote while in this pandemic is a laudable goal,” said McKoy.

To this point, turnout in the 3rd is lightly above where it was in 2016, but not significantly, which is partly why the councilman expressed confidence. “People are still not exercising their franchise though it’s relatively convenient to vote this time.  I do think they can simplify it for people. Clearly, current health concerns are sufficient to warrant the notion that we need to do this [have an election] with social distancing; though I think that can be accomplished with spacing at the polls.”

Vauss
Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss

 

Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss, for his part, didn’t care to speculate earlier today about the exact specifications of the July 7th elections.

He remained locked in his own unresolved ward contests, with some percolating street allegations of ballot fraud. The mayor estimated the Essex County Board of Elections should bring the contests to a definitive conclusion on Friday – the same rough deadline, incidentally, that Murphy gave for his announcement about the next election.

“We should play it by ear,” said Vauss, leader of Team Irvington Strong.

But he did reassert an ongoing, overriding priority in the midst of the ongoing crisis: public health.

“If we’re still in this COVID-19 crisis the way we are now,” said Vauss, “I think an all-VBM election is advisable.

“Health,” the mayor added, “absolutely remains our chief concern. It depends on people’s health, first. If we can socially distance in time for the election and the numbers continue to reflect a downward trend, sure, but health is first.”

 

 

 

 

 

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