Four elected Democratic officials in Paterson, New Jersey face criminal voting fraud charges stemming from the May 12 special election in the city, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Thursday.
Paterson City Councilman Michael Jackson, and Councilman-elects Abu Razyen, Alex Mendez, and Shelim Khalique were charged with criminal conduct involving hundreds of mail-in ballots during a May 12 municipal election.
The investigation began when the U.S. Postal Service’s law enforcement arm told the attorney general’s office about hundreds of mail-in ballots located in a mailbox in Paterson, along with more found in nearby Haledon, Grewal said.
It’s unclear what about the ballots tipped officials off to the possibility of a crime, as well as how the alleged wrongdoing unfolded.
The charges reinforce an oft-repeated warning from President Donald Trump and Republican leaders. They have warned that widespread mail-in voting is more susceptible to election fraud than in-person voting, and that could impact a close 2020 general election.
Grewal doesn’t say whether the allegations affected the outcome of the election.
But he cast the charges as part of a warning ahead of the July 7 primary, which like the May 12 election, will be mostly done by mail-in ballots.
“Today’s 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 public’s confidence in our democratic process.”
Grewal alleges that Jackson violated state election law because he approached voters in the city about collecting and delivering their ballots to the county election board, which is prohibited for candidates.
The ballots that Jackson delivered also lacked the required identifying information for the “bearer,” who under the law must complete a certification in the presence of the voter for whom he or she is delivering the ballot.
Jackson also had more than three ballots, which is the limit under the law, according to the attorney general.
Theodore Kyles, Jackson’s attorney, said his client would plead not guilty and will contest the charges.
Mendez, also a candidate, collected voters’ ballots in the city where he was running and delivered them to county election officials, Grewal said, despite a law barring that. The ballots lacked the required information naming the official bearer, he said.
He also faces a charge that he procured at least one voter registration application, which he knew to be false, Grewal said.
A message seeking comment was left with Mendez’s attorney.
Khalique is charged with collecting and delivering ballots from voters without information identifying the bearer.
Khalique’s attorney, Joseph Rotella, also said his client denies any allegations of wrongdoing.
Rayzen procured more than three mail-in ballots that were not his own and for which he was not identified as an authorized bearer, according to the attorney general.
A message seeking comment on Rayzen’s behalf was left with his attorney.
Gov. Phil Murphy, D-N.J., mandated the May 12 election be conducted by mail because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Best Water To Drink In The AM[Sponsored]
New Jersey’s July 7 primary, which includes president, Senate, and House candidates, will also be done mostly by mail.
White House officials and Republican lawmakers have repeatedly warned that widespread mail-in voting could be overwhelmed with fraud and, potentially, foreign interference.
Attorney General William Barr pointed out in a recent NPR interview that the government stimulus program just weeks ago ended up overwhelmed with errors.
“We just mailed out checks under this program. And what is it? I heard something like 20% or something were misdirected,” Barr said, citing a report released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office. More than $1 billion in stimulus funding was sent to people who are in prison or deceased.
“I know things can happen like that,” Barr said about mail-in voting. “Because I know people move, a very high percentage in the United States, people move all the time. And I also know that you can easily take things out of mailboxes.”
Barr’s warning echoed the president in a speech made just two weeks after the New Jersey municipal election — before the arrests were announced.
Sponsored: Eerie WW2 Photo Reveals Shocking Secret
“You can’t do the mail-in ballots because you’re going to have tremendous fraud. And remember what I said: They’ll be grabbing them from mailboxes. They’ll even be printing them,” Trump told supporters. “They’ll use the same paper, the same machines, and they’ll be printing ballots illegally.”
“And they’ll be sending them in by the hundreds of thousands, and nobody is going to know the difference,” he added. “We can’t do that.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article