Challenger Shahin Khalique slightly strengthened his lead over incumbent Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman by a single vote after Thursday morning’s 2nd Ward election recount.
Khalique now has 1010 mail-in votes while Akhtaruzzaman has 523, according to Passaic County election officials. Khalique’s 14 and Akhtaruzzaman’s 35 provisional votes remained unchanged.
Overall, Khalique’s final tally is now 1,401 and Akhtaruzzaman’s 1,381. The one extra vote added to Khalique’s tally resulted from the machine’s failure to count a mail-in ballot in which the voter selected the challenger and also wrote in his name, said election officials.
Akhtaruzzaman is now trailing behind Khalique by 20 votes.
“It’s a democratic process,” remarked Khalique after the recount outside the Freeholders Meeting Room at the Passaic County administration building where the recount took place.
“Now we’re 100-percent sure,” said Akhtaruzzaman, who was not present during the recount.
Khalique said he is unconcerned about a likely legal battle with Akhtaruzzaman. His attorney John Carbone of Ridgewood-based law firm Carbone and Faasse was present during the recount.
Carbone got into a heated exchange with Passaic County superintendent of elections Sherine El-Abd after she said her investigation of the questionable mail-in votes discovered 7 votes cast in the 2nd Ward election were invalid.
El-Abd said a minimum of 60 ballots are under question. Carbone said she does not have the authority to invalidate votes.
“That’s the province of a judge,” said Carbone. “She’s not judge, jury, and executioner.”
John Currie, chairman of the Passaic County Board of Elections, said there is nothing the board could do or change. He noted the ballots and the names have been separated making it impossible to determine which voters cast which ballots.
“He had an obligation to put those aside when we objected,” said Aheya Khan, who worked onAkhtaruzzaman’s re-election campaign, of the chairman’s comments. “It’s a failure on his part.” He said the Akhtaruzzaman campaign objected to a number of mail-in ballots during the election night count.
Currie has previously said the councilman’s campaign was objecting without any physical evidence.
The chairman and commissioner Rick Farfan took turns in laboriously counting every single mail-in and provisional ballots cast in the 2nd Ward election by hand in front of about two dozen Khalique supporters.
Khan and Henry Sosa, campaign manager for Khalique, stood over the commissioners while the manual counting occurred.
Akhtaruzzaman’s supporters were conspicuously absent at the recount. Khan, a close friend and supporter of the incumbent, was the only supporter present during the recount.
Currie and Farfan made four piles for each of the candidates after which the piles were counted. Khalique would be certified after the recount, said election officials.
Now that the recount has been finished, Akhtaruzzaman is expected to file a lawsuit to overturn the election. Carbone said the councilman should think “long” and “hard” when filing the lawsuit, for if he is unsuccessful he will have to pay Khalique’s legal expenses.
Akhtaruzzaman referred all legal questions to his attorney Ted Kyles.