The man who exposed councilman Shahin Khalique’s backroom mail-in ballot processing operation a month after the election took to the stand on Wednesday morning as the 2nd Ward election fraud case resumed.
Titu Miah told the court he signed certifications for 13 mail-in ballots at the command of Khalique’s campaign staff.
“I just filled them up with my information and gave it back to him,” Miah told the court. He said he was handed the 13 mail-in ballots and told to complete the certificate of mail-in voter, flaps attached to mail-in ballots, by Khalique’s brother Jwel Khalique.
Miah completed each of the flaps and signed his name as an assistor. When he was asked by Susan Champion, attorney representing Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman whether the envelopes were open when he completed the flaps, he responded he was unsure.
“They just gave me the paper like this,” said pointing to an envelope with the mail-in voter certification form faced up, “with the bottom flap open.” He signed as an assistor for those voters, but never met any of the 13 individuals who he purported to have assisted.
New Jersey election law prohibits such tampering with mail-in ballots. “No mail-in voter shall permit any person in any way, except as provided by this act, to unseal, mark or inspect the voter’s ballot, interfere with the secrecy of the voter’s vote, complete or sign the certificate, or seal the inner or outer envelope, nor shall any person do so,” reads the New Jersey vote by mail law. “In no event may a candidate for election provide such assistance, nor may any person, at the time of providing such assistance, campaign or electioneer on behalf of any candidate.”
Deputy attorney general Alan Stephens sought clarification as to whether Miah completed the entire certification. Miah told him he completed the entire form save for the voter’s signature.
Some of those voters for whom Miah completed certificate of mail-in voter told the court in earlier testimonies they did not vote in the May 2016 election. Miah testified with his voice sometimes quivering and his hands shaking.
Miah appeared in court with Passaic-based divorce attorney Adrian Bermudez.
Akhtaruzzaman’s campaign alleged more than 221 mail-in ballots were handled by a team of men working for Khalique. The former councilman’s campaign claimed there were 25 men who were involved in the backroom operation processing mail-in ballots and signing them as assistors.
Miah said there were other people at the Union Avenue campaign office while he was completing the certifications. He identified Joyed Rohim, who worked on Khalique’s campaign and later was appointed to the Paterson Board of Adjustment. There was also Khalique’s brother and Foyes Ali, who signed as assistor for 65 people, alleged the former councilman’s campaign.
Khalique’s attorney John Carbone will have a chance to cross examine Miah on January 6th, 2016 when the trial resumes.
In a half-day session, Champion also called to the witness stand Akhtaruzzaman’s friend and supporter Aheya Khan. Champion brought up a Facebook posting that was captured by Khan showing a number of the assistors in a photograph with Khalique.
Champion and Carbone battled over the screenshot. Carbone questioned the authenticity of the screen capture. He asked Khan when the screenshot of the photograph was captured from Facebook. Khan said the screenshot was taken on June 16th, 2016. He said the picture was posted on Khalique’s page few weeks earlier.
“How do you know it’s the same picture?” asked Carbone. Khan said he saw the picture when it was first posted, but took the screenshot sometime later.
Carbone asked Khan to tell the court the number of people in the photograph. Carbone’s question frustrated Champion and annoyed Passaic County assignment judge Ernest Caposela. The judge sternly told both Carbone and Champion to sit down as both were standing next to the witness stand questioning Khan.
The judge asked Champion what was the point of the screenshot.
“Our point is to show all these assistors are associated with Khalique’s campaign,” said Champion.
“That’s a stretch, judge,” remarked Carbone.
Some of those individuals in the victory celebration photograph also did not reside in the 2nd Ward during the election, said Champion. She said if those individuals’ ballots are rendered invalid, the picture, would be “circumstantial evidence” to assert their vote was cast for Khalique.
“If he’s here celebrating with Shahin Khalique it is extremely unlikely he will have voted for Akhtaruzzaman,” said Champion. She said in the event Ali, who has not shown up to testify fails to appear, and those ballots he touched are thrown out, those should be subtracted from Khalique’s tally.
Champion struggled to explain the aim of the screenshots.
“You’re having a very difficult time proving your case,” the judge told Champion. He said too often he has been serving as an “assistor” to Champion. The judge’s office had to use a sheriff’s officer to translate and hold a witness on the phone today.
The judge also said the court has racked up almost $10,000 in bills for the Bengali translator. The irregular flow of witnesses sometimes led to the interpreter sitting in on the trial without any translating.
“You want me to infer from that [screenshot] they all strong armed voters to vote for Khalique?” asked the judge.
“If a vote on which they assisted is thrown out that vote was probably for Khalique,” said Champion.
“I don’t think I can legally do that,” said the judge. He said it may infringe on the sanctity of the secret ballot. Citing the recent presidential election, the judge said some people, who said they would vote for Hillary Clinton, at the end of the day voted for Donald Trump at the polls.
“In the sanctity and privacy of the voting booth they did what they thought they wanted to do,” said judge. He said he will not invalidate ballots based on a photograph.
Champion clarified her example saying if a vote is already being thrown out for another reason and it was touched by one of Khalique’s supporters the court should presume that voter voted for Khalique.
The trial resumes in January. The judge said he is attempting to bring the trial to a conclusion at the end of February.
“Weʼre taking way too long,” said Caposela.