The second recount in a Paterson City Council race previously decided by a single vote and overshadowed by widespread fraud allegations has resulted in a tie.
A Passaic County spokesperson confirmed the results of the second recount ordered by a judge of the race between Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman and Shahin Khalique. Each candidate received 1730 votes, the spokesperson told News 4.
Election officials must now figure out how to break the deadlock in the city's vote-by-mail election has been plagued by widespread voter fraud claims already under multiple investigations.
News of a second recount in the 2nd Ward race came just one day after an incumbent candidate formally contested the results of his race in the 3rd Ward, which he lost his seat.
Councilman Bill McKoy filed a formal court motion Sunday seeking to contest the election for the city's 3rd Ward. McCoy trails Councilman-elect Alex Mendez by 240 votes after a recount.
McKoy seeks to have the election results overturned and wants to have a new election. In the motion, McKoy's lawyer makes the argument that Mendez tried to steal the election.
"In just a few weeks with limited resources, we have uncovered a deep and systemic problem with the way this election was conducted, at seemingly every level. However, we are most concerned with what appears to be a concerted effort to steal this election through a massive voter fraud program," Scott Salmon, McKoy's lawyer, said in a statement.
The motion alleges the Mendez campaign used at least one individual to steal ballots out of mailboxes. That person, YaYa Luis Mendez, already confessed to the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, McKoy says in the motion.
A spokesperson for the Mendez campaign "has no idea who the person in the complaint is" that McKoy and his lawyer claim worked for the campaign.
The motion also claims the Mendez campaign stole ballots over several years to build up a database of voters' signatures.
"Additionally, upon further information and belief, the Mendez campaign obtains copies of voter registration and application forms to obtain signatures, as well as by making copies of candidate petitions with voter signatures on them through his multiple runs for office since 2012," the motion says.
This strategy, the motion claims, let the Mendez campaign steal uncompleted ballots, fill them out in favor of the candidate, and mail them into the election's office. McKoy's lawyer says the practice makes it impossible to know how many ballots were stolen.
Councilman-elect Mendez's campaign dismissed the claims made by McKoy and his lawyer. Their campaign spokesperson provided the following statement with News 4, first shared with the Paterson Times.
“We were not involved. I don’t even know what he is talking about,” Mendez said of McKoy's allegations. “He’s a sore loser. They lost big time. I haven’t seen their lawsuit. I’m not paying attention to that.”
"This is just another contrived attempt at changing the narrative by outgoing Councilman Bill McKoy and Mayor Sayegh," the Mendez campaign said.
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 fact that 25% of Paterson's Third Ward residents were disenfranchised is unacceptable," McKoy said. "Every Paterson voter's voice should and must be heard in order to ensure a fair and open election process."
Separately, Mendez has alleged through his attorney that police personnel were used to “conduct surveillance on candidates that were not supported by Mayor Sayegh” before election day.
One source familiar with the investigation said Paterson police officers who speak differing Spanish dialects were asked to assist with translations for investigators with the State Attorney General’s office who are looking into the voter fraud allegations.
McKoy called the Mendez complaint letter “the height of absurdity.”
“That the individual at the center of a voter-fraud case would have the unmitigated gall to invite the U.S. Attorney and the FBI to investigate – even though he already knows they are presently engaged … I just look forward to the FBI and U.S. Attorney taking up that challenge,” McKoy said.
At stake in the much-disputed elections is control of $300 million in New Jersey's third-largest city, in addition to hundreds of millions more in Board of Education spending and state aid.