Governor Phil Murphy’s move to hold solely vote-by-mail ballot elections on May 12 has sent shock waves through the political established in Paterson, shaking up races in several of the six wards.
Incumbents in the race – Ruby Cotton, William McKoy, and Luis Velez – now face existential challenges from their rivals, according to half-dozen political strategists and observers interviewed for this report.
Cotton, McKoy, and Velez’s teams lack experience in conducting vote-by-mail campaigns. Their teams are also small. An effective vote-by-mail campaign requires a lot of manpower to foll0w-up with voters and encourage them to fill out the ballot, according to several people, who have handled vote-by-mail operations in past elections. However, some of the challengers – Alex Mendez, Ramon Joaquin, and Eddy Olivares – have team members adapt at vote-by-mail campaigning, according to strategists.
Mendez secured nearly 1,300 mail-in votes when he finished second place in the mayoral race in 2018. Joaquin and Olivares each had nearly 1,000 mail-in votes in the 2018 school board election.
Olivares won his school board seat as a result of mail-in votes.
Incumbent councilman Shahin Khalique in the 2nd Ward also won his seat in 2016 as a result of mail-in votes. His team has extensive experience in vote-by-mail campaigning, according to strategists. However, he is unlikely to see an edge in the race because his rival, former councilman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, has previously won elections relying on mail-in votes. Both Khalique and Akhtaruzzaman are evenly matched in their mail-in-vote operation capabilities.
Challenger Mosleh Uddin is likely to see a slight edge in the 1st Ward race. His father has some experience in vote-by-mail campaigning.
Murphy’s change has placed some candidates tied to mayor Andre Sayegh at a disadvantage in the May 12 election. Sayegh is supporting McKoy in the 3rd Ward, Nakima Redmon in the 1st Ward, Ruby Cotton in the 4th Ward, and Akhtaruzzaman in the 2nd Ward.
Eighteen candidates are running in the six ward elections. Incumbent Al Abdelaziz is running unopposed after his opponent dropped out of the race.
Over the years, Paterson elections have been marred by voter fraud related to mail-in ballots. Former councilman Rigo Rodriguez was charged with mail-in ballot fraud linked to the 2010 municipal elections.
In 2016, the 2nd Ward election was marred by mail-in voter fraud that led to a year-long court battle between the two men who finished first and second. A deputy attorney general in court filings said there was “fraud was afoot” in the election. No one was prosecuted.
Some have said the state needs to put in place strong measures to deter voter fraud.