PATERSON, NJ - In a court filing Councilman Bill McKoy has called for a redo of the 3rd Ward election that pitted him against former Councilman Alex Mendez. After a recount of the ballots Mendez leads McKoy by a count of 1,598 to 1,358.
Three other candidates, Sharrieff Bugg, Robyn Spencer, and Chauncey Brown III received a combined 458 votes in the contest that has drawn scrutiny even before the count began.
“As an elections lawyer, I can say with some expertise that voter fraud is extraordinarily rare, and it is precisely because it is so rare that what happened in Paterson stands out like a sore thumb,” Scott Salmon, an attorney representing McKoy said in a statement issued Sunday. “Ultimately, we believe that it is impossible to tell with any reasonable certainty who actually won this election, and so we call on all other candidates to join us in demanding a new election, one that is fair, free, and results in a true expression of the will of the public.”
In a 32-page court filing McKoy’s campaign uses a statement by Gregg Paster, the attorney representing Alex Mendez, as the initial “grounds for contest” in calling for a new election. “This election is a sham, regardless of who are the ultimate victors and this process has to be reviewed by the courts to address the deficiencies in the planning and execution of this election,” Paster is quoted as saying.
“Petitioner (McKoy) agrees with Mr. Paster,” the filing reads. “The Election was rife with nonfeasance, malfeasance, and straight up voter fraud.” The extent of possible wrongdoing, McKoy’s campaign contends, is evident by the number of ballots that were rejected by election officials.
While 19 percent of all ballots were rejected citywide, the number rose to over 24 percent in the Third Ward. Both numbers, the filing points out, far exceeds the average of 8.1 percent of ballots rejected in election contests held in 30 other municipalities across New Jersey on May 12.
The filing casts some blame on the US Postal Service for this mishandling of ballots, pointing specifically to a building at 807 11th Ave where 25 percent of the building’s residents, for a total of 17, attested they never received a ballot. Notably, the filing continues, was the ballot of Eduardo R. Soriano Jr., who, for whom the Board of Elections reported receiving a completed ballot that was rejected based on a mismatched signature. Soriano stated for the court that he was among the residents in the building that did not receive a ballot.
In another instance, the filing continues, Trecia Thompson, a resident at 440 E. 33rd Street reported that she completed her ballot and handed it to a mail carrier “as he was passing by her house.” On or about May 14, 2020, the petition continues, Thomspon found her own ballot, supporting McKoy, on the ground in the middle of 18th Street.
A total of 394 completed ballots, including that of candidate Chauncey Brown III, were delivered to the Board of Election after the deadline had passed, and, therefore, were not counted. “Such late delivery was not the fault of the voters; but rather the USPS” the filing states. These ballots, McKoy’s campaign believes, should be counted.
The filing also contains an extensive narrative related to the delivery of at least nine votes to the Board of Elections, including that of Kyona L. Best, the wife of Freeholder T.J. Best, that were all believed to be cast for McKoy. Of these, seven were rejected, incorrectly the campaign claims, based on the manner in which the Board of Elections is said to have interpreted the law regarding the “bearer”, or person that delivers the ballot, portion of the VBM.
Discrepancy in signatures was also pointed to as an issue in the election. Specifically, the McKoy campaign listed the names of 15 voters whose ballots were counted, despite there being no signature on file to compare them to, as well as 69 ballots, believed to be cast in support of McKoy, that were rejected based on what the Board of Elections considered mismatched signatures.
Taking the most space in the petition was a litany of examples that the McKoy campaign believes constitutes voter fraud, including the discovery of 347 completed ballots in a postal box in Haledon and another 531 completed ballots in a postal collection box in Paterson. Of these 878 “bulk reject ballots” were those of Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly and three members of his family, as well as at least 43 other voters who stated that they completed and mailed their ballots on their own.
Finally, the petition points Chino Joaquin and YaYa Luis Mendez, both of whom are said to have acted in a fraudulent manner on behalf of the Mendez campaign. In Joaquin’s instance, the petition points to a video posted to social media platform Whatsapp in which Joaquin, is seen giving a tutorial in Spanish explaining how to vote for his son, who was a candidate for Council in the Fifth Ward. In the video, the petition claims, Joaquin can be seen completing a ballot on behalf of another voter and sealing it in its envelope, without completing the assistor or bearer portion as required. The petition claims that Joaquin managed Mendez’ “entire VBM operation,” an allegation a campaign spokesperson for Mendez denied saying he had no "official" role in the campaign.
“If he was bold enough to depict himself illegally completing a ballot on behalf of another voter,” the filing claims, “it is reasonable to assume he did so off-camera as well.”
Meanwhile, YaYa Mendez, the petition says, has confessed to investigators working on behalf of the NJAG’s office to having stolen ballots out of mailboxes, both completed and uncompleted “on behalf of and at the direction of the Mendez campaign.” These actions, the filing says, point to a larger effort taken on by Mendez campaign “through multiple runs for office since 2012” in which efforts were employed to build up a database of voters names and signatures allowing them to “steal uncompleted ballots, fill them out for the candidate of their choice, and mail them in to the Board of Elections.
The Mendez campaign immediately rejected this claim with a spokesperson saying "absolutely and unequivocally" that "the Mendez campaign has never and would never instruct anyone to break the law."
Mendez has also called for investigation, both by state law enforcement officials and the Paterson City Council, into allegations of wrongdoing in the election.
At a Wednesday press conference Mendez' attorney, Gregg Paster said that 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," he said in a follow up to Mendez' accusation that Mayor Andre Sayegh used city police officers in efforts to bolster McKoy's candidacy, "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 has also said the Mendez campaign is 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 appearing to knock back one of the McKoy's leading arguments.
"Councilman Alex Mendez had the overwhelming support of his community even with voter suppression, intimidation, and harassment," the Mendez campaign concluded.
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