All-mail Pandemic Election Ends in Fraud Charges Against NJ Politicians
PATERSON — Election fraud charges stemming from last month's all-mail special election have been filed against a city councilman, a councilman-elect, the brother of another councilman and a fourth man.
The May 12 non-partisan special election was conducted entirely by mail-in ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
State prosecutors said 1st Ward Councilman Michael Jackson, a candidate in the race, collected mail-in ballots from numerous voters and delivered them to the Passaic County Board of Elections without signing the outside as the official bearer.
Prosecutors said Jackson also handled at least one voter's mail-in ballot before it had been filled out or sealed.
The handling of mail-in ballots is limited to each individual voter, who is responsible for completing it and then returning it by mail, leaving it in an official “drop box” or delivering it to the County Board of Elections.
A voter can also act as "bearer" for no more than three mail-in ballots. The bearer has to sign the certification on each ballot envelope.
Additionally, a candidate in any election on the ballot is never allowed to serve as a bearer.
But Alex Mendez, who won the election in the 3rd Ward, is accused of collecting mail-in ballots from numerous voters and submitting phony voter registration applications.
Jackson was re-elected with 844 votes against opponents who got 599 and 490 votes. Mendez was elected with 1,595 votes, besting his closest competitor's 1,350 votes.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service alerted the Attorney General’s Office that hundreds of mail-in ballots were found "bundled" in a mailbox in Paterson, while numerous additional ballots were found in a mailbox in nearby Haledon.
As previously reported by Paterson Press, 400 or so mail-in ballots were bundled in one mailbox, while the batch found in Haledon was about 360 mail-in ballots.
The discovery launched an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity & Accountability.
Shelim Khalique, a 51-year-old resident of Wayne whose councilman brother, Shahim Khalique, was a candidate in the 2nd Ward and won by just eight votes, is accused of collecting mail-in ballots from a number of voters and delivering them to the Passaic County Board of Elections without information identifying the bearer.
The Wayne resident also faces separate charges accusing him of hiring unqualified school bus drivers and a sex offender for his city-based transportation company.
Abu Razyen, 21, of Prospect Park, was the fourth man facing charges involving illegal mishandling of mail-in ballots during the May 12 special election, which was conducted entirely by mail-in ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mendez is charged with second-degree election fraud, as well as third-degree counts of fraud in casting mail-in vote, unauthorized possession of ballots and tampering with public records. He also is charged with fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records.
Jackson and Khalique are charged with fraud in casting mail-in vote, unauthorized possession of ballots and tampering with public records — all third-degree counts — as well as fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records.
Razyen is accused of collecting and handling a "stack" of mail-in ballots, which investigators said was captured on video. He is charged with third-degree counts of fraud in casting mail-in vote and unauthorized possession of ballots.
“Today’s charges send a clear message: If you try to tamper with an election in New Jersey, we will find you and we will hold you accountable,” state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said. “We will not allow a small number of criminals to undermine the public’s confidence in our democratic process.”
"While it’s gravely disappointing to see another episode of potential corruption in Paterson, I remain hopeful that this is the final chapter in what unfortunately has plagued our city for generations," Mayor Andre Sayegh said in a written statement to New Jersey 101.5.
"I applaud the Attorney General’s Office for their vigilance, as we look forward toward a seismic shift in our political culture that prioritizes the ideals of democracy that my administration so greatly values."
Residents with concerns about voting and elections are encouraged to call the Division of Elections at its Voting Information & Assistance Line: 877-NJVOTER (877-658-6837).