Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My visit to the Cumberland County Board of Elections

April 23, 2014

Theodore Baker, Esq.
Cumberland County Counsel
790 E. Commerce Street
Bridgeton, NJ 08302

(via e-mail only to Theodoreba@co.cumberland.nj.us)

Dear Mr. Baker:

I am contacting you at the suggestion of Lizbeth M. Hernandez, Administrator of the Cumberland County Board of Elections, with whom I visited today.  I am hoping that you are willing and able to give me some information about a complaint I had filed with the Board of Elections in January of this year.

By way of background, I received information late last year that fraudulent ballots were cast in the November 5, 2013 Commercial Township Committee election between Judson Moore and LaRae Smith.  My informants believed that but for the alleged fraudulent ballots being cast, Moore, who officially won the election by a vote of 427 to 413, would have lost the election by a slim margin to Smith.

My informants gave me the names of several voters who they suspected of casting fraudulent ballots and I selected one to investigate.  My investigation confirmed, by way of documented proof, that this person had cast a mail-in ballot in the November 5, 2013 election and had, on June 24, 2013, applied for the mail-in ballot using an address in Port Norris (Commercial Township).  I then spoke with a neighbor who lived within 500 feet of the Port Norris address where the subject of my investigation claimed to reside on June 24, 2013.  The neighbor provided me with an affidavit stating the voter did live at the Port Norris address until 2010 or 2011 but then moved to a different municipality to reside with a new spouse.

On January 11, 2014, I sent the neighbor's affidavit, along with copies of the voter's mail-in ballot application, voter registration application and other documents to the State Police Barracks in Port Norris along with a cover letter asking for the matter to be investigated.  I took this action since it appeared to me that the voter may have violated N.J.S.A. 19:63-28, which makes it a crime of the third degree to fraudulently submit a mail-in ballot.  On January 22, 2014, I forwarded a copy of my State Police complaint, with all exhibits, to Ms. Hernandez and asked the Board of Elections to conduct its own investigation into the matter. On January 28, 2014, Ms. Hernandez notified me in writing that "the Cumberland County Board of Elections is investigating this matter."

Having heard nothing further from either the State Police or Ms. Hernandez, I visited Hernandez's office on Thursday, April 17, 2014 to follow up on my January 22, 2014 correspondence.  Ms. Hernandez was not in the office but her staff took my phone number and said that they would have Ms. Hernandez call me back early this week.  After not having received a return phone call, I visited Ms. Hernandez's office today at about 2:10 p.m.

The conversation which took place between me and Ms. Hernandez was not what I had expected.  I had entered into the conversation believing--apparently mistakenly--that as the person who initially brought the possible fraudulent ballot to the Board's attention, I would be entitled to receive information regarding the disposition of the investigation.  While I am obviously paraphrasing, the conversation between me and Ms. Hernandez went something like this:
LH: I can only tell you certain things.  I can tell you that a decision was made by the Board regarding the matter raised in your letter.

JP: Was that decision made in a Board executive session?

LH: No, it was made in public session.

JP: Can you tell me what was decided?

LH: No, you might be able to get that information from Ted Baker.

JP: You can't tell me that which occurred during a public meeting?  Can you show me the minutes of that meeting?

LH: No, if you want the minutes you will have to complete an Open Public Records Act request form.

JP: Can you tell me if the investigation is closed?

LH: I cannot tell you that. I can only tell you that a decision was made regarding your case.

JP: Was there ever an intention on the Board's part to notify me of the fact that a decision was made?

LH: The Board is under no obligation to advise you of anything.
At that point, told Ms. Hernandez that I did not take her evasiveness personally, and that I was well accustomed to dealing with "ornery and onerous" government agencies.  I asked Ms. Hernandez for an OPRA request form, which she gave me, and I completed it and handed it in to her.  In it, I asked for meeting minutes, e-mails, correspondence and other documents that might help me understand if and how this matter was handled.

I am writing to you because Ms. Hernandez told me that you might have some information about this matter that you might be willing to share with me.  Given the way that Ms. Hernandez treated me, I am certainly not expecting much, if any, information from you.  However, I would be remiss if I didn't at least try to reach out to you.

So, if there is anything that you can share with me, I would certainly appreciate it.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Very truly yours,

John Paff
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875
Voice: 732-873-1251
Fax: 908-325-0129
e-mail: paff@pobox.com

cc. Lizbeth Hernandez, via e-mail to lizbethhe@co.cumberland.nj.us