New Jersey

NJ Gov. Phil Murphy Faces Voter Frustration Amid Paterson Election Controversy

The mayor of Belleville says about 10 percent of voters in his town will be disenfranchised amid election problems

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Some voters in Paterson are frustrated with the widespread voter fraud allegations surrounding this week’s vote-by-mail city council election, and are venting their frustration toward Governor Phil Murphy who implemented the election plan. 

“He (Gov. Murphy) has now placed us in a position where we are being cheated out of our votes,” said community activist Ernest Rucker. Rucker said he believes many black and Latino voters in New Jersey’s third-largest city were affected. “The Governor must step in and disqualify this election through the courts or whatever he has to do.”

Councilman Luis Velez also said this week if the corruption problems continue to grow, he also believes Gov. Murphy should consider cancelling the election and hold a new vote this summer.

The Governor Friday said there are no plans to change election rules and added,”I don’t have any specific insights on Tuesday in Paterson. It is clearly something we are looking at. My guess is with some fullness of time, we’ll have more to tell on that.”

In Paterson, New Jersey, some are now voicing doubt about the fairness and accuracy of the vote-by-mail count. Jonathan Dienst reports.

Hundreds of votes were allegedly found bundled and stuffed in a single mailbox in neighboring Haledon. Postal workers also said they discovered hundreds of other mail-by-vote ballots stuffed in mailboxes in part of the city. And cell phone video posted on social media appears to show one voter mailing many votes. These issues raise questions if there was an organized effort by any of the campaigns to try to steal the election. Past close council seats have been decided by a dozen or two vote margin.

Resident Dion Lattimer said this week, ”If you guys are stuffing ballots, it just means our vote doesn’t count.”

Murphy responded to directly to Latimer’s concerns on Friday. “I would say to Dion Lattimer – keep the faith,” Murphy said. “Every vote counts.”

But Mayor Andre Sayegh and numerous council candidates are growing increasingly concerned about whether a fair vote tally can be reached. County election officials have already set aside 800 votes already amid the corruption allegations — about five percent of the total number of ballots returned. Counting of the vote has stopped until Tuesday so election workers tally the votes then to help avoid chances of exposure to the coronavirus over several days of counting.

More than 800 mail-in votes in one of New Jersey's largest cities have already been set aside, according to a county spokesperson, as an election is marred by allegations of voter fraud. NBC New York's Jonathan Dienst reports.

Some candidates want those 800 votes that have been set-aside either counted or at least have the specific voters names released to see if they in fact sent in a ballot.

Some residents however are complaining they never even received a ballot. Councilman Velez said he knows of two dozen instances where votes from his ward have been received by the Board of Elections, but those very residents insist they never filled out a mail-in ballot.

Governor Murphy referred questions about the corruption allegations to his Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. A spokesman for Grewal again declined to comment on the alleged voting scandal.

In Belleville, the mayor there also said there were significant problems with the vote-by-mail election in his town.

“We expect right now that ten percent of the electorate in Belleville that actually cast ballots will either not be counted because they were not received or they will be rejected for signatures,” said Mayor Michael Melham.

Melham called the post office is “inept” in delivering ballots to residents in advance, or returning them to the Board of Elections by the 48-hour post-election day deadline.

“After second and third requests, ballots still did not get to voters.” Melham said there are photos of dozens of ballots just left in lobbies of building, never reaching the intended voters.

There are questions of possible voter fraud in Tuesday's city council election in Paterson, New Jersey. Hundreds of ballots have been found mailed together in mailboxes in Paterson.

He added long-time voter signatures can change over the years. He said he fears some legitimate votes will be disqualified because election monitors don’t think the ballot signatures match the dated signature on the register.

Melham said he supports vote by mail as an option, but not as the only way to cast a ballot. He said opening the polls should be made an option — if people are allowed to stand in line at Home Depot, then they should be allowed to vote in person on election day.

State Sen. Joe Pennacchio echoed that call, saying polls should be open as usual for the primary that has been rescheduled for July 7.

"Instead of giving our residents hope, this is a message of despair. July 7 is more than 50 days away, but in Murphy's mind, the virus will still be controlling us and we will not have any semblance of normalcy returning to the state,: Pennacchio said.

Murphy said for the upcoming primary, each town will have one polling place open for voters in addition to mail-in ballots being sent to registered Democrats and Republicans. Murphy said he also spoke with postal officials to improve their performance with the ballots.

But for activist Rucker, some of the above changes come too late for this week’s vote-by-mail election in Paterson. “None of this took place for this election and it gave people the reason and the methodology to cheat,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the FBI and a US Attorney Craig Carpenito spokesman again declined to comment as to whether the feds are – or are not – investigating the voter fraud allegations in Paterson.

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