Judge Ernest Caposela today ordered a new election in a Paterson city council election that led to criminal charges against the winner and others.
Both candidates – challenger Alex Mendez, who finished the May 12 election 240 votes ahead and was charged a few weeks later, and longtime incumbent William McKoy – have agreed to a special election rather than a protracted legal fight, their attorneys said in a court hearing this morning.
Mendez is accused of fraud in casting mail-in votes, unauthorized possession of ballots, tampering with public records, and falsifying or tampering with records. He was also charged with election fraud and false registration.
Caposela made it clear that is ruling should not be interpreted as his view of the allegations against Mendez.
“That would probably affect his criminal case, one way or the other,” Caposela.
Ballot fraud in Paterson’s recent election is cited in a lawsuit filed by Donald Trump’s re-election campaign to overturn Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order for an almost all vote-by-mail election.
The new 3rd Ward election will be held on November 3 and will be restricted to just the candidates who ran in the May contest, Caposela said.
McKoy’s attorney, Scott Salmon, asked Caposela to appoint election monitors to ballots in what is, at least for now, a general election conducted almost entirely through vote-by-mail ballots.
“This is the cost of democracy,” Salmon said.
That was opposed by Greg Paster, Mendez’s attorney, and by Deputy State Attorney General George Cohen.
Caposela declined to order monitors, citing a $150,000 cost to Passaic County when it hired Walter F. Timpone, now a state Supreme Court Justice, as a court-appointed monitor in Passaic County in 2000.
Cohen said that the campaigns should pay for court-imposed monitors to observe from inside each campaign headquarters and “follow the candidates along.”
Paster asked the judge to relax the statute that limits bearers from three ballots to ten
He called bearer ballot limitations “a way to disenfranchise people.”
Another special election in Paterson’s 2nd Ward will also be on the ballot That race ended in a tie between incumbent Shahin Khalique and challenger Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman.
Caposela refused to allow Mendez to take his seat when the city council reorganized on July 1.
Among his actions was to void the May election and declare a vacancy. He said the city council can appoint a caretaker to serve until the November election results are certified, but said the five candidates running on the do-over election would not be eligible for the appointment.
The judge further restricted relatives and close allies of the five candidates from being appointed as short-term officeholders.
“We are excited to give the residents of Paterson’s Third Ward another chance at actually having their voices heard,” said McKoy. “We wish we did not have to go through this process, but it is the cost of democracy and it is one that I am willing to pay for the City I love so much.”