The New Jersey Attorney General filed voting fraud charges Thursday against four men in connection to the Paterson City Council race on May 12.
Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced voting fraud charges against 1st Ward Councilman Michael Jackson, 3rd Ward Council-Elect Alex Mendez, Shelim Khalique and Abu Razyen.
All four men were charged with criminal conduct involving mail-in ballots.
Jackson and Mendez were charged with fraud in casting mail-in votes, unauthorized possession of ballots, tampering with public records and falsifying records.
Mendez was additionally charged with election fraud and false registration.
“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,” Grewal said in a statement.
“We will not allow a small number of criminals to undermine the public’s confidence in our democratic process.”
The Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability investigation into the election began when the U.S. Postal Inspection Service found hundreds of mail-in ballots in a mailbox in Paterson, New Jersey. Many more were found in a mailbox near the township of Haledon.
“The residents of New Jersey have a right to free and fair elections, and we will ensure that happens,” OPIA director Thomas Eicher said.
“Our office’s criminal investigations complement a number of other safeguards that New Jersey has implemented to ensure the integrity of our elections.”
The allegations against the four men stem from voters’ ability to assign a “bearer” of their ballot to deliver it for them instead of placing it in a “drop box” or delivering it to the County Board of Elections.
“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,” Shore News Network reported.
In addition to reports of Jackson, Mendez and Khalique approaching voters and collecting ballots without a listed bearer, authorities found a video of Razyen “holding and flipping through a stack” of mail-in ballot outer envelopes without a bearer filled out, according to the Office of the Attorney General news release.
“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,” Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh said in a statement, according to NJ.com.
The Board of Elections Commissioners decided not to count 800 vote-by-mail ballots that had been bundled together in the same election.
Whereas absentee ballots can be requested by voters — in some states without an excuse — a ballot is automatically mailed to every eligible voter in a vote-by-mail system, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
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