A councilman-elect charged with ballot tampering is due to be sworn in next week, but now the incumbent challenging the results of the tainted May 12 election is asking a judge to decertify the results and stop Alex Mendez from taking office.
After a recount, Mendez led incumbent William McKoy by 240 votes in a race that attracted the attention of state and federal law enforcement even before the voting ended. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal charged him with voter fraud on Thursday.
“Now we have the Attorney General himself corroborating some of these allegations to a degree sufficient to meet a probable cause standard,” said Scott Salmon, McKoy’s attorney, in a motion filed with the court. “In other words, we have shown that there is smoke, and the Attorney General is saying there is fire.”
Salmon said that McKoy has alleged a “sweeping set of allegations about specific ballots, far in excess of the margin of victory.”
“Should an individual be allowed to be sworn in and take office while facing criminal charges for unlawfully interfering in the very election that gave him the right to the seat?” Salmon asked.
McKoy is already challenging the results of last month’ election, claiming systemic voter disenfranchisement, claiming that the number of legal votes rejected and illegal votes accepted exceeded the number of votes separating the candidates.
Mendez is accused of fraud in casting mail-in votes, unauthorized possession of ballots, tampering with public records, and falsifying or tampering with records. Mendez was also charged with election fraud and false registration.
According to the attorney general’s office, Mendez approached one or more voters in his ward and collecting their VBM ballots and then having them delivered to the Board of Elections without legally required bearer information.
Prosecutors say Mendez procured or submitted one or more voter registration applications he knew to be fake.
Salmon says that allowing Mendez to take his 3rd Ward council seat would provide a hardship to the city.
“The voters of the 3rd Ward will suffer irreparable harm … if Mr. Mendez is able to reap the fruit of his allegedly fraudulent conduct,” Salmon said.
McKoy is asking the court to stop Mendez from taking an office “for which there is credible evidence he did not obtain in a free and fair election, or, in the alternative, decertifying the results of said election pending the outcome of this matter, because it is impossible to tell with any reasonable certainty who won.”
“They are not accused of something unrelated, like failing to pay their taxes or driving without insurance, but are accused of directly tampering with the very election from which they now seek to benefit,” McKoy said. “I am not asking to be given Mr. Mendez’s seat, just that we hold a special election to ensure that we are hearing the voice of the people.”
In his argument, Salmon says there is “significant public interest in ensuring a free and fair election, and in preventing individuals who were involved in stealing an election to hold the office that was stolen.”
“If (McKoy) is wrong and Mr. Mendez found to be not guilty, or if Petitioner loses in this election contest, Mr. Mendez can be sworn in accordingly,” Salmon said. “However, in the interim, whether it is one week, five weeks, or even ten weeks, it is far better to leave the seat vacant than to risk votes being cast by someone who has been investigated and is being charged for election fraud.”
According to the McKoy campaign, YaYa Luis Mendez, a Mendez campaign worker “confessed to investigators working on behalf of the (New Jersey Attorney General’s) office to having stolen ballots out of mailboxes, both completed and uncompleted, on behalf of and at the direction of the Mendez campaign.”
In an astonishing example of possible voter fraud, McKoy’s team cites an instructional video prepared by Chino Joaquin, a prominent member of Mendez’s campaign team, that shows Joaquin filling out a vote-by-mail ballot on behalf of another voter, Miquel Joaquin-Morillo.
Joaquin is show in the video showing how to vote for Ramon Joaquin in the 5th Ward, “but he is clearly holding a First Ward ballot with a vote for Mossieh Uddin, who had the same ballot position of 2A in the 1st Ward that Ramon Joaquin had in the 5th Ward.”
Nearly 900 votes that appear to have been mailed in bulk from three individual mailboxes, including more than 300 rubber-banded together from a mailbox in neighboring Haledon, were discovered by postal workers before Election Day.
Gov. Phil Murphy, Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Paterson) have called on Mendez to resign.
McKoy has asked Judge Ernest Caposella to order a new election.
“Mr. Mendez is free to run and may the best candidate win through a fair competition,” McKoy said. If Mr. (Michael) Jackson and Mr. Mendez are allowed to be sworn in, they will directly benefit from the fraud of which they are accused, which will make a mockery of the system that many have fought and died to protect. Patersonians deserve better.”McKoy injunction