As he heads into the city’s 2nd Ward election on Tuesday, Shahin Khalique is already ahead of his three opponents by 1,000 votes cast through mail-in ballots, according to a new campaign flyer released by the Khalique campaign.
“One thousand people have already voted for us early,” reads Khalique’s flyer which features him with at-large councilwoman Maritza Davila. Khalique confirmed the advertisement’s assertion on Sunday afternoon stating, “Over 1,000 of my supporters have sent in early voting ballots.”
As of Friday 2,239 mail-in ballots have been mailed to voters in the 2nd Ward. Of that number 1,304 have been received. And 935 remain outstanding, according to the Passaic County election division.
The number of mail-in ballots in the 2nd Ward is nearly twice that of the other five wards combined. The 6th Ward has the second highest number of mail-in ballots with 433 – 331 have been received; 102 remain outstanding.
Khalique has been accused by his three opponents – incumbent Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman and challengers Aslon Goow and Eddie Gonzalez – of exploiting mail-in voting through questionable methods. His campaign allegedly gave presents to individuals to collect mail-in ballots. He is also accused of allegedly sending campaign workers to homes which requested mail-in ballots to pressure voters into completing and mailing them.
There’s also the accusations of routing mail-in ballots to controlled address, moving voters into the 2nd Ward from elsewhere, and tricking voters into requesting mail-in ballots.
“If Paterson comes out to vote at the polls he will not win,” said Gonzalez. “If Paterson’s 2nd Ward residents do not come out to vote then he wins an election via fraud.”
Gonzalez declined to reveal the number of mail-in ballots his supporters have submitted. “I’m not pressing as hard as other candidates,” he said. He is expected to receive 200-300 mail-in votes, according to political strategists.
Goow reckoned his campaign will be the beneficiary of 100 mail-in votes. He said his campaign does not have a dedicated team for mail-ins as his opponents.
Akhtaruzzaman is expected to have 600 or so mail-in votes, according to strategists. “It’s hard to count,” he said. He said he needs at least 350 to 400 to effectively compete to keep his seat.
Mail-in ballots have sparked a controversy in the 2nd Ward. In late March, it emerged a bogus letter purported to be from the U.S. Department of Justice directed voters to discard mail-in ballots.
The letter forced the Passaic County superintendent of elections Sherine El-Abd to open an investigation. She has determined the letter to be fraudulent. She later expanded the investigation to include the large number of mail-in ballots. She said on Friday a number of mail-in ballots are in question.
“This investigation is not going to be over by election day. It might impact the results of the election,” said El-Abd on Friday. “It looks like a lot of time and energy went into doing things that were not ethical or legal.”
El-Abd said mail-in ballots are offered to voters to make it convenient for them to vote in elections. “It’s not offered so somebody can cast the vote on your behalf,” said El-Abd.
El-Abd has requested assistance from the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office with the municipal elections.
Lee Moore, spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, said attorneys are routinely assigned to the county superintendent of elections and the board of elections offices to assist and advise.
“The May 10 municipal elections are no different,” said Moore on Friday.
El-Abd said her office does not open the mail-in ballot. That is done by the Passaic County Board of Elections.
Gonzalez said Khalique’s thousand mail-in votes will be challenged.
“A lot of those numbers will be reduced significantly once challenged,” said Gonzalez.
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