The Passaic County Board of Elections sent unofficial preliminary vote totals for the six ward elections to the Paterson City Clerk’s Office on election night. However, the preliminary tallies were never made public as candidates and their supporters, citing delays in counting and results, began to question the integrity of New Jersey’s first solely vote-by-mail election.
Officials in the City Clerk’s Office told a reporter to file a records request for the results on Thursday. City clerk Sonia Gordon could not immediately be reached for comments.
Passaic County spokesman Keith Furlong confirmed preliminary vote totals were sent to the City Clerk in Paterson and the school boards in Passaic City and Totowa on election night.
Officials said the preliminary numbers showed a low count and was not made public to avoid further controversy. But the delay has had the opposite effect.
“The entire process has been a scam,” said Ramon Joaquin, one of three men in the 5th Ward race. He said his team was not allowed to challenge votes during the counting process. Candidates were allowed to observe the counting via a video conference link. He said the video link was inadequate.
Councilman Luis Velez said he saw the numbers from the clerk’s office on Thursday morning. He noted the ballot count is “really low.”
City Council vice president Michael Jackson on Thursday morning said he was not aware the county sent over preliminary numbers to the City Clerk’s Office.
Jackson is defending his seat against two opponents.
Over the past years, the Passaic County government has usually made public on-going tallies on election night, but it did not do so this year. On Tuesday evening, a Passaic County judge ordered the election count to be stopped because of an influx of votes and social distancing issues at the Board of Elections. His order also extended the count deadline to May 19.
More than 800 mail-in ballots have been set aside because of suspicion of voter fraud. Hundreds of ballots in bundles were found in mailboxes in Paterson and Haledon. State law bars a person from handling or transporting more than three ballots. New Jersey Attorney General’s Office is investigating the mishandled ballot situation.
An attorney representing former councilman Alex Mendez has sent a letter to the Board of Elections to count the 800 votes. His team is contemplating whether to file court action to force the board to count the ballots.
The elections also had other problems. Voters reported getting the wrong ballots. A family claimed it never voted, but their ballots were received by the Board of Elections. A video circulating on social media shows a man showing off a stack ballots in his car. And stacks of mail-in ballots were scattered on the ground at apartment buildings in various parts of Paterson prompting the U.S. Postal Service to refer the matter to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for investigation.
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