More than 1,400 mail-in ballots requests from 2nd Ward has been processed by Passaic County election officials alarming three of the four men running for a council seat in that ward.
1,440 mail-in ballots have been processed as of Monday morning. 1,303 have been accepted and 137 were rejected mostly due to signature mismatch, according to the county.
In all, the Passaic County Clerk’s Office received 639 mail-in votes from the 2nd Ward. However, that number is expected to nearly double prior to May 10th, 2016.
To put the large number of mail-in ballots in perspective, incumbent Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman won in 2012 with 1,459 votes, according to election records.
“I guess people just want to vote early,” said Shahin Khalique, who is running an aggressive mail-in ballot program.
Khalique’s program has attracted negative attention. Eddie Gonzalez said many voters he visited in the past days have informed him of the manner in which the Khalique campaign is gathering the mail-in votes.
In one example, Katty Morfa, a key campaign official at the Khalique camp, allegedly pressured an elderly couple until she obtained the mail-in ballot.
“Just to get her out of the house she [voter] ended up giving her the vote by mail,” said Gonzalez speaking about Morfa’s alleged tactics. He said Morfa visited the elderly individuals at 11 p.m. to ensure the mail-in was completed and submitted.
Morfa could not be reached for comments on Monday afternoon.
In some instances Khalique’s campaign allegedly promised presents to induce voters into completing ballots in his favor.
Khalique denied offering inducements to voters.
“No, no. Not at all,” said Khalique.
“They are using a tactic that’s not right,” said Gonzalez. He said in some cases, Khalique’s campaign workers, are appearing in peoples’ living rooms allegedly offering to assist voters in completing the mail-in ballot.
Gonzalez said the assistance is little more than looking over the resident’s shoulder to ensure the voter is making the “right” selection.
“That’s like someone walking with you into the booth with a political shirt, with a political motive, to make sure you vote for their candidate,” said Gonzalez. “That’s how they are using the vote by mail strategy.”
“This process allowing people just to vote by mail is now being abused,” said Aslon Goow. “I couldn’t get people to voluntarily fill out absentee ballots for me just because I want one. There’s definitely something screwy going on here.”
Even Akhtaruzzaman, who has utilized mail-in ballots successfully in his past two elections, is worried about the large number of mail-in ballots in the 2nd Ward.
Akhtaruzzaman said Khalique’s campaign is allegedly tricking unsuspecting voters into requesting mail-in ballots. He said some of the mail-in applications the Khalique campaign collected go back to last year. He alleged the applications were submitted to the county just prior to this election with a new date.
“People should be allowed to do mail-in only if they want to do it,” said Akhtaruzzaman. He said in some cases voters are being forced to opt for mail-in voting which he thought was wrong.
Some voters regret giving into the Khalique campaign’s allegedly high-pressure tactics, said Gonzalez; however, they will not be able to nullify their mail-in to vote at the polls, according to election officials.
Khalique, who has spent more than all the other candidates combined so far, is betting big on mail-in votes, according to political strategists. Some even have said Khalique intends to declare his victory a day before the election.
“This is how elections are bought,” said Gonzalez.