The Essex County Prosecutor’s office has launched a criminal investigation into vote-by-mail ballots in last month’s Cedar Grove municipal elections, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
Councilman Harry Kumburis, who lost his seat by 27 votes in the May 14 non-partisan election, was caught on tape after 10 PM on Election Day ringing a doorbell in what could be viewed as an effort to get voters who requested VBM ballots to return them.
A Ring.com doorbell video obtained by the New Jersey Globe shows Kumburis ringing at the door of a Cedar Grove residence. An audio recording shows the councilman and another man. Kumburis appears to use his cell phone flashlight to look at some papers he was carrying.
The owner of the home contacted local police.
A customer service manager at the Newark Main Post Office, which operates 24 hours-a-day, alleged in a letter to election board officials that a man approached a U.S. Postal Police officer at approximately 10 PM on Election Day requesting a postmark on the ballots.
The man, who was not identified in the letter, received a postmark, but the ballots were invalidated because they did not include a bearer signature – which is used to establish a chain of custody in the process.
Essex County election officials referred the matter to federal and state law enforcement officials.
Confirmation of the investigation came from the Essex County Counsel’s office, who denied a request under the Open Public Records Act to obtain a copy of the post office letter
“We contacted the Essex County Board of Elections and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. The matter referenced in your request is under investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office. The investigation is open and ongoing,” said Valentina Smoot Palchetti, the Essex County Custodian of Records.
Palchetti told the Globe that the county was “denying access to these records while the investigation is ongoing because releasing them would jeopardize the investigation.”
“I have not been contacted and I know nothing about it,” Kumburis told the Globe. “I wouldn’t be investigated because I did nothing wrong other than ring a doorbell. I haven’t been accused of anything by anybody.”
There is no indication that Kumburis is connected to the investigation.
“I don’t understand what the investigation is,” said Kumburis. “I talked to a lot of people about this and they all said nothing wrong was done.”
Kumburis said he has no idea who was delivering ballots to the Newark Post office two hours after the polls closed.
“I’m curious to know myself,” he said.