A New Jersey judge invalidated a city council election and ordered a new one after allegations of voter fraud, according to a ruling issued Wednesday.
The May 12 election for Paterson’s Third Ward city council was “rife with mail in vote procedural violations,” Judge Ernest Caposela said in his ruling, though he left the decision on whether there was voter fraud to the criminal courts.
President Donald Trump’s campaign and Republicans have grasped onto the election problems in Paterson as they argue against a plan from New Jersey’s Democratic governor to have universal vote-by-mail. They say the fraud in the city race forebodes fraud in November.
Paterson’s mayor heralded the ruling.
“It was the right ruling. That past election was fraught with fraud,” Mayor Andre Sayegh told CNN. “The City will comply with the judge’s decision and we created the Mayor’s Election Awareness Team to preserve the value of the vote in Paterson.”
A Paterson councilman and the councilman-elect were among four people charged with criminal conduct involving mail-in ballots during the election, New Jersey’s Attorney General announced in late June.
Scott Salmon, attorney for incumbent Councilman William McKoy in the case, told CNN his client was “thrilled” by the ruling.
“That’s the cost of democracy. We’d rather get it right, do it twice, than not get it right,” Salmon said.
The attorney for the councilman-elect agreed.
“All parties agreed to the new election and frankly, we welcome it. Obviously, we would have liked to just take the seat because we won, in our view fair and square, but November 3 will be a high level of participation… and we are very confident we will be triumphant in the end,” said Gregg Paster, attorney for Alex Mendez, who won the initial May election by 240 votes.
Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Gov. Phil Murphy’s universal vote-by-mail order, citing Paterson.
“The Attorney General has charged four individuals in Paterson, NJ—including one sitting city council member and one candidate for city council who nominally won his race—on charges arising from a scheme to collect and illegally mail in hundreds of absentee ballots in that election. That scheme led to a crisis in Paterson, requiring that the city hold another election between the indicted candidate and his opponent because it is impossible to determine just how many fraudulent ballots were cast,” the Trump campaign and Republican Party wrote challenging New Jersey leaders.
“It was a local election in Paterson. Some guys tried to screw with the system,” Murphy said on MSNBC Thursday. “I view it as a really positive data point. They got caught.”
A mail carrier was also fired as part of the voter fraud allegations from the May election, according to a USPS Inspector General report obtained by CNN. The report doesn’t reveal the name of the postal worker but states that the person was issued a notice of removal on May 19 and charged with “incomplete disposition of mail.”
In addition to allegations of fraud, more than 24% of ballots were rejected for failing to meet the standard for mail-in ballots. No other municipal election that day had a rejection rate higher than 13%, according to the ruling.
The new election will take place on November 3.
Kelly Mena and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.