There’s a Genuine Absentee Ballot Fraud Scandal Going On in Paterson, New Jersey and It Is Going to Get a Lot of National Attention: What Lessons Should We Learn?

Here’s some coverage from NBC New York:

Numerous residents are now complaining that they never received or sent in a vote-by-mail ballot — even though Passaic County Board of Election records show a ballot in their name was mailed in.

Ramona Javier made that exact complaint from her front stoop along Chestnut Street. “We did not receive vote by mail ballots and thus we did not vote,” she said in Spanish. When she was shown an official list of some of the people who voted on her block – and that her name was on that list — Javier said, ”This is corruption. This is fraud.”

Javier said there are eight relatives and immediate neighbors she knows of listed as having voted — but who insist they never even received ballots, including one relative who she says has been in Florida for weeks.

And more:

Hundreds of votes were allegedly found bundled and stuffed in a single mailbox in neighboring Haledon. Postal workers also said they discovered hundreds of other mail-by-vote ballots stuffed in mailboxes in part of the city. And cell phone video posted on social media appears to show one voter mailing many votes. These issues raise questions if there was an organized effort by any of the campaigns to try to steal the election. Past close council seats have been decided by a dozen or two vote margin.

Resident Dion Lattimer said this week, ”If you guys are stuffing ballots, it just means our vote doesn’t count.”

Murphy responded to directly to Latimer’s concerns on Friday. “I would say to Dion Lattimer – keep the faith,” Murphy said. “Every vote counts.”

But Mayor Andre Sayegh and numerous council candidates are growing increasingly concerned about whether a fair vote tally can be reached. County election officials have already set aside 800 votes already amid the corruption allegations — about five percent of the total number of ballots returned. Counting of the vote has stopped until Tuesday so election workers tally the votes then to help avoid chances of exposure to the coronavirus over several days of counting.

I expect Trump and his supporters will point to this as evidence that voter fraud via absentee ballots can happen. But as I explained in this Washington Post piece, absentee ballot fraud is very rare — there were 491 prosecutions nationwide related to absentee ballots in all elections nationwide between 2000 and 2012, out of literally billions of ballots cast. And when someone tries an absentee ballot scheme like this clumsy attempt in Paterson it is hard to hide. People get caught. Just look at what happened in the North Carolina 9th congressional district in 2018, where a Republican operative tampering with absentee ballots has been indicted for fraud.

The rise in vote by mail should lead to increased vigilance against this sort of activity. But the push to expand vote by mail is worth it given the great health benefits of increased voting by mail during a pandemic, the small risk of fraud, and the likelihood that fraud will get caught.

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