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Judge orders new election in NJ race marred by mail-in ballot fraud charges
JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images

Judge orders new election in NJ race marred by mail-in ballot fraud charges

Nearly 1 in 5 ballots were rejected

A New Jersey judge ordered a new election for a Paterson City Council seat, which was initially believed to be won by a candidate who has since been charged with voter fraud. State Superior Court Judge Ernest Caposela issued his ruling on Wednesday.

Alex Mendez appeared to have won the May 12 special election, but then the U.S. Postal Service's law enforcement arm informed the state attorney general's office that hundreds of mail-in ballots were found in a mailbox in Paterson.

The Passaic County Board of Elections decided not to count 800 ballots cast in the race. An additional 2,300 ballots were disqualified after the signatures didn't match those on file. Of the total votes cast, 19% were rejected. Mendez won the election by fewer than 250 votes.

Mendez, who thought he had won the election, was hit with six criminal charges, including election fraud and falsifying records. Paterson Council Vice President Michael Jackson, Abu Rayzen of Prospect Park and Shelim Khalique of Wayne, were also charged with voter fraud. All four defendants have denied the charges, according to The Hill.

"Today's charges send a clear message: If you try to tamper with an election in New Jersey, we will find you and we will hold you accountable," New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D) said in a statement in June. "We will not allow a small number of criminals to undermine the public's confidence in our democratic process."

The new election will be held in November.

President Donald Trump cited the Paterson City Council election in his argument against nationwide mail-in voting.

"Absentee Ballots are fine. A person has to go through a process to get and use them. Mail-In Voting, on the other hand, will lead to the most corrupt Election is USA history. Bad things happen with Mail-Ins," President Trump tweeted in June. "Just look at Special Election in Patterson, N.J. 19% of Ballots a FRAUD!"

On Tuesday, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee sued New Jersey over Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order to provide mail-in ballots to all voters in the Garden State.

"In a direct usurpation of the legislature's authority, Gov. Murphy issued Executive Order 177 ... purporting to rewrite the election code for the November 2020 election," the lawsuit alleges. "This brazen power grab was not authorized by state law and violates both the Elections Clause and Electors Clause of the U.S. Constitution and 3 U.S.C. §1."

"Moreover, in his haste, the governor created a system that will violate eligible citizens' right to vote," the lawsuit states. "By ordering universal vote-by-mail, he has created a recipe for disaster. Fraudulent and invalid votes dilute the votes of honest citizens and deprive them of their right to vote in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment."

The lawsuit cites the Paterson City Council election marred by mail-in ballot fraud charges.

Murphy responded to the lawsuit on Wednesday.

"The President's campaign is putting itself on-record as wanting to delegitimize our November election, instead of working with us to ensure that voters' rights are upheld along with public health," Murphy wrote on Twitter. "This goes far beyond attempts at weaponizing the @USPS to disenfranchise voters. This is now becoming a full-throated propaganda campaign to undermine the election itself."

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