A New Jersey city councilman and three others were charged in a mail-in voter fraud scheme that ended with 19 percent of ballots rejected, officials said.
Paterson City Councilman Michael Jackson, 48, Councilman-Elect Alex Mendez, 45, Shelim Khalique, 51, and Abu Razyen, 21, were charged with crimes including fraud in casting mail-in votes, unauthorized possession of ballots, and tampering with public records.
Patersons City Council members arent officially affiliated with a political party.
All voting in the May 12 elections in New Jersey was done by mail-in ballots, a move officials attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The charges came after the U.S. Postal Inspection Service found hundreds of mail-in ballots in a mailbox in Paterson, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said.
“Todays charges send a clear message: if you try to tamper with an election in New Jersey, we will find you and we will hold you accountable,” Grewal said in a statement. “We will not allow a small number of criminals to undermine the publics confidence in our democratic process.”
The states election process lets voters complete a mail-in ballot themselves and return the ballot by mailing it, placing it in a specially designated “drop box,” or delivering it to the County Board of Elections. But the state also lets a voter give a completed ballot to a “bearer,” who is then supposed to complete a certification on the ballot envelope in the presence of the voter.
The bearer can then return the ballot on behalf of the voter.
Bearers are barred from collecting and delivering more than three ballots and a candidate in the election isnt allowed to serve as a bearer.
Jackson, officials said, violated election laws by approaching at least one voter in Paterson in the same district where he was running and collecting their mail-in ballots. Jackson did not certify the ballots in an apparent bid to skirt the law. He also possessed more than three mail-in ballots.
Mendez is also accused of attempting to be a bearer in the same district he was running.
“In addition, Mendez allegedly procured or submitted one or more voter registration applications which he knew to be false, fictitious, or fraudulent, in that he knew the person for whom the application was procured was not eligible to vote in the election district identified on the application,” the office of Grewal, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Khalique, the brother of Paterson councilman Shahin Khalique, allegedly dropped off mail in ballots that didnt have information identifying himself as the bearer and Razyen was captured on video footage flipping through a stack of more than three mail-in ballot envelopes that didnt have the bearer portion completed.
Jackson faces up to 16 years and six months in prison, Mendez faces up to 31 years and six months in jail, and the other two men also face jail time if convicted.
The probe into elections for Patersons six ward seats on the City Council led to 3,190 ballots, or about 19 percent of those submitted, being disqualified, officials told the Paterson Press.
Keith Furlong, a spokesman for Passaic County government, called it “part of the normal process.”