PATERSON, NJ - Amid a flurry of last-minute mudslinging, a state judge late Monday night overturned the Passaic County Superintendent of Elections’ decision to impound about 2,000 absentee ballots, the majority of them apparently filed in Paterson.

The decision, hailed by Bill Pascrell’s campaign as a major victory, seems to require county election officials to count the ballots Tuesday and to include them in the tallies issued after the polls close.

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“This frivolous legal action at taxpayer expense is the cherry on top of Steve Rothman's entire campaign strategy and tonight's court decision to prevent the Rothman campaign's efforts to suppress the vote in Paterson represents another huge victory,’’ said Pascrell campaign manager Justin Myers.  

Steve Rothman’s campaign had asked that the ballots be impounded and that their counting be delayed over suspicions about the integrity of absentee ballots.  Rothman’s campaign argued that 300 absentee ballots already had been rejected and it raised concerns about what it called an “unorthodox” Paterson storefront operation that had sign saying “Vote By Mail Here” with its windows covered from public view.

The Rothman camp also maintained that 650 letters mailed to newly registered voters in Paterson came back “undeliverable.’’

“The Rothman Campaign wants a fair and transparent campaign, and we wonder why the Pascrell Campaign does not want the same,” said Rothman spokesman Paul Swibinski. 

But Pascrell’s people asserted that the Rothman attempt to impound the absentee ballots was an attempt to suppress the turnout in Paterson and would unfairly target voters from the Silk City. “This is the exact same tactic employed by Republicans in 1981 when they stole the election from Jim Florio,’’ said Pascrell spokesman Sean Darcy.

In a four-page letter announcing his decision on Monday afternoon to impound the absentee ballots, county elections superintendent Robert DeMers Jr. said there had been concerns whether there would be enough time on Tuesday to fully and adequately examine all 2,000 of them. Impounding the ballots, he said, would have no impact on the “essential mechanism of democracy,’’ but would allow time to ensure the ballots are reviewed in a secure manner.

The Pascrell campaign quickly filed a court challenge, setting up an Election Eve hearing that began at 9:30 pm.

As Superior Court Judge Ernest Caposella heard arguments in the case, a crowd of Pascrell supporters protested outside.