The city’s 2nd Ward election took a turn for the worse on Thursday as fictitious letters purported to be from the United States Department of Justice were received by voters telling them to discard their mail-in ballots.
The dubious letter carries the heading “voting violation” and contains the voter’s identification number, date of birth, and a case number giving off the impression it’s from a government agency.
“Official document” and “confidential” are stamped on the envelope of the letter from the “American Law and Justice” further attempting to give the impression the letter is emanating from a government source.
“Discard the ‘Vote by Mail Ballot’ and travel to your polling location and Vote in person for the candidate (s) of your choice on election day,” reads the letter. It further states there are individuals in the 2nd Ward being paid to collect mail-in ballots.
“This is not something that came from DOJ,” said Matt Reilly, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice.
The letter is being received by supporters of Shahin Khalique (pictured, left) who is running for the 2nd Ward seat in the four-man race. He said about 80 voters have reported receiving the letter. He blames incumbent Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman (pictured, right). He alleged the incumbent is behind the letter.
Khalique said Akhtaruzzaman obtained the petitions he submitted to the city clerk’s office through an open record request and has been allegedly targeting his supporters to scare them off from voting.
“Only people who received it are people who signed my petitions,” said Khalique. “Only person who OPRAed those petitions is Mohammed. So you figure.”
“I don’t know who is doing it,” said Akhtaruzzaman when asked if his campaign is behind the bogus letter. When told about Khalique’s allegation, Akhtaruzzaman said, “They can make all the allegations they want.”
Akhtaruzzaman denied having any part creating or mailing out the letter.
The Passaic County superintendent of elections Sherine El-Abd said her office has opened up an investigation into the letter. She said she learned about the letter on Wednesday.
The one letter obtained by the Paterson Times has a date stamp of March 16th, 2016. The letter was sent to the voters via the U.S. Postal Service as is apparent from the postage stamp.
“This letter appears to be something that was made up. No government organization is going to tell you to drop your mail-in ballot and not use it,” said El-Abd. “It’s definitely voter suppression and voter fraud. This interferes with the integrity of the election process.”
Moises Santos, a 2nd Ward voter, said he was frightened when he opened the letter.
“When you receive a letter like that you get scared,” said Santos, 63, who lives in the city’s Totowa section. He said his illness prevents him from going to a polling place to cast his ballot. “I’m sick and I have a lot complications,” he said.
Mail-in ballots have been extensively used in the past two 2nd Ward elections. Mail-in ballots determined the winner of the last two elections.