Amid widespread vote-by-mail fraud allegations in the Paterson city council election, one race was apparently decided by just 8 votes.
Incumbent Shahin Khalique defeated Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman — 1,729 votes to 1,721. And long-time council member William McKoy lost by 245 votes to challenger Alex Mendez.
A Passaic County spokesman said 16,747 vote-by-mail ballots were received, but the county's official results page shows 13,557 votes were counted — a difference of 3,190 votes. Those thousands of ballots not counted would represent nearly one in five of all votes cast, or 19 percent.
The Board of Elections previously announced about 800 votes would be set aside and not counted amid charges they were found improperly bundled in mailboxes in Paterson as well as at a drop box in nearby Haledon.
The spokesman later told the Paterson Press that the additional 2,390 disqualifications were due to the election board comparing signatures on the ballots to those previously on file for voters, and the new ones not matching up. The spokesman also would not explain the breakdown of what ward those ballots were from, or which candidates were voted for in those disqualified ballots.
According to the Paterson Press, four wards had more votes go uncounted than the winner's margin of victory — meaning the uncounted ballots possibly could have tipped the election in favor of one of the candidates.
The election results could be challenged in court once the election is certified. There are ongoing accusations of ballot stuffing, vote stealing and fraud casting a dark cloud over the election.
“There is a genuine absentee ballot fraud scandal going on in Paterson,” said election law expert and University of California-Irvine School of Law professor Rick Hasen. While ballot fraud is rare, Hasen wrote in his blog, "When someone tries an absentee ballot scheme like this clumsy attempt in Paterson, it is hard to hide. People get caught.” The Paterson election was vote-by-mail only due to the coronavirus crisis.
More on Paterson Election Controversy
Paterson’s Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, who serves as Deputy Speaker of the NJ State Assembly, again voiced concern about possible corruption with the vote. “I’m confident that the proper authorities will thoroughly investigate," he said Wednesday.
The mayor and others have voiced concern there may have been an organized effort by some campaigns to steal mail-in-votes.
In an interview with NBC New York, State Attorney General Grubir Grewal again declined to answer questions about the corruption allegations. When asked about the off-topic fraud allegation during a pre-arranged interview on another topic, Grewal said, ”No, I am just gonna stay on topic on this. Thanks.”
NBC New York has reported claims by some residents that they never received ballots in the mail, but records show they voted. Those residents are alleging fraud. NBC New York also first reported on hundreds of ballots allegedly being improperly bundled, and also aired video of a single voter apparently mailing in numerous votes, which experts say is illegal.
A spokesman for Governor Murphy again referred questions about the election to his Secretary of State Tahesha Way. Way’s spokeswoman said there would be no statement from her office about Paterson’s election problems.
In several other council races, the margins of victory were larger, including in the 5th ward where Luis Velez defeated Ramon Joaquin by more than 400 votes. Both candidates had voiced complaints about the fairness of the Paterson vote-by-mail election.