Five days before the Paterson municipal election, Shanki Jumhour went to the offices of the Passaic County Board of Elections to drop off his ballot.
He brought four others ballots with him – all members of his immediate family and all living at the same address.
Just three members of the family had their votes counted. The other two were rejected.
As the bearer, Jumhour was limited under state law to carry just three ballots into the county office.
Passaic election officials say the attorney general’s office instructed them to accept the ballots, record the name and address of the bearer, and simply count the three on top of the pile. Any leftover ballots beyond the first three should not be counted.
Nobody told Jumhour or other bearers that they had delivered too many ballots and that two of the votes would never be counted.
Hussein Jumhour, 27, said his father agreed to drop off his ballot at the county election office, two miles away from their home.
He didn’t realize that move would lead to his disenfranchisement in the May 12 non-partisan election, or the vote of his 24-year-old brother, Alaa.
“If I knew that was the issue, I would have put it in the mail,” Jumhour told the New Jersey Globe. “Or I would have brought it in myself.’
That effectively left a Board of Elections employee with the decision-making authority to pick which ballots would count and which would not.
State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Little Silver), who sponsored legislation in 2015 that reduced the number of vote-by-mail ballots delivered by a bearer from ten to three, said the legislature never intended for a Board of Elections staff to make a determination about which voters would count and which would not.
“Nobody should be deciding if votes should count,” O’Scanlon said. “That’s insane.”
O’Scanlon was serving in the State Assembly when he joined State Sen. James Whelan (D-Atlantic City) in writing a law that would prevent anyone from manipulating the voting process.
“We were afraid. We heard stories of ballots being collected that weren’t filled out,” O’Scanlon told the Globe.
Whelan’s push for limits on ballot bearers came from his experience in Atlantic City, where former council president Craig Callaway had been at the center of election disputes involving vote-by-mail and messenger ballots.
According to O’Scanlon, the legislature’s goal was to prevent voter fraud and not stop a family member from dropping off ballots.
In another part of Paterson, longtime third ward councilman William McKoy filed for a recount on Friday after losing re-election by 254 votes to Alex Mendez, a former at-large councilman.
McKoy’s attorney, Scott Salmon, alleged in court documents that “a significant number of ballots were unlawfully obtained and/or harvested, such that the true results of the Election are uncertain.”
Included in that number were close to 900 ballots that appear to have been mailed in bulk from three individual mailboxes, including more than 300 rubber-banded together form a mailbox in neighboring Haledon.
Passaic County Board of Elections Chairman John Currie, who also chairs the state and county Democratic parties, said on election day that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was on-site investigating the Paterson balloting. Currie was on a live-stream broadcast of the count and made his comments to other election officials.