PATERSON, NJ – Presumptive 3rd Ward Councilman Alex Mendez has asked federal authorities to investigate Paterson’s recent vote-by-mail election, claiming there were attempts to suppress the vote of Hispanic residents.
During a press conference Wednesday morning on the steps of City Hall, Mendez said he’s called upon the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and the FBI to look into “the abuse of power and the purposeful attempt to disenfranchise and discriminate against the Hispanic voters of Paterson.”
Mendez, a one-time mayoral candidate, accused Mayor Andre Sayegh of improperly using city resources “to intimidate and abuse Hispanic voters in an attempt to ensure his candidate, Bill McKoy, remain as 3rd Ward Councilman.”
Along with a request for an investigation, Mendez also released a video he said shows Paterson police officers conducting what he and his attorney, Gregg Paster, believes was “an official investigation into the confidential actions of voters” in the 3rd Ward ordered by Mayor Andre Sayegh.
In the video, a group of men are seen knocking on the doors of homes, one of whom Paster said they identified as Paterson Police Sgt. Edwin Morillo, an officer detailed to the Mayor’s Office.
“Why city police personnel are conducting this investigation is a complete mystery and totally inappropriate, if not an outright abuse of power,” said Paster.
This year’s election was conducted entirely through vote-by-mail ballots due to COVID-19 concerns. As of May 14 – the final day for ballots to be postmarked and returned to the county – 16,747 voters had sent in their completed ballots.
Mendez beat out Mckoy, the longest serving member of Paterson’s legislative body, by more than 240 votes in the 3rd Ward contest and a subsequent recount by hand.
According to the Passaic County Board of Elections, about 3,200 ballots were ultimately disqualified for issues such as ballot signatures that don’t match those on file or being improperly bundled together. County officials said, “any potential irregularities” will be “handed off to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.”
Mendez believes there has “clearly been an attempt to suppress the Hispanic vote because the Board of Elections disqualified nearly a quarter of the ballots in the 3rd Ward election, 75% of which he said were cast by voters with Hispanic and Latino surnames.
Paster said he believes there was “a systematic plan underway to disenfranchise a significant portion of the Latino electorate, in order to benefit the incumbent candidate, who lost the election by 240 votes, even with the 1,108 disqualified.”
“If we are going to start going door to door questioning voters, let’s count every ballot, as was the intent of the Governor in ordering universal mail-in voting for this election, and then examine all 4,500 votes individually and see what the result is,” Paster added.
Paster said they are skeptical of reports of “ballots appearing in mailboxes bundled hundreds at a time” and accused Sayegh’s office of being “tapped into the postal service.”
“Without disclosing legal strategy, suffice it to say that vote by mail envelopes are larger and thicker than a regular #10 letter envelope, and there is no way that more than a handful could be deposited in a mailbox at any one time,” he said.
When reached for comment Wednesday, Sayegh said, “It’s abundantly clear that authorities are investigating irregularities and potentially unlawful behavior, pertaining to the recent council elections, as per media outlets.”
“While Mr. Mendez imprudently attempts to control the narrative regarding these investigations, we can rest assured that justice will ultimately prevail. My focus has always been safeguarding the ideals of democracy that we hold sacred,” he said.
Ernest Rucker, a local activist, said Latino and Hispanic voters aren’t the only groups in Paterson “disenfranchised” by the recent election.
Rucker, a longtime critic of how vote by mail campaigns have been allegedly mismanaged in the past, said, “Something went wrong and we need to get to the bottom of it.”
“This whole election was corrupt. That is the main issue that stands today,” he said. “If anyone standing here today wants to act like it was just one race affected, you’re doing a disservice to the community. This election means too much to us.”