MORRISTOWN — In a letter dated March 10, 2015, the four Commissioners on the Board of Elections have formally requested an investigation into voting irregularities that purportedly occurred during the 2013 Primary Election in Parsippany. The four Commissioners are Chairman George Hanley; John Sette, Morris County Republican Party chairman; John Fox and Helen O’Connor.
Allegations of absentee ballot improprieties are nothing new in Parsippany with murmurings beginning when James Barberio defeated incumbent Michael Luther in 2009.
The letter written to the Attorney General’s office in Whippany states:
Over the last several years, we have spent a tremendous amount of time and effort in the courtroom due to questions raised regarding mail-in ballots used by local candidates and their representatives in the Township of Parsippany Troy Hills.
The Morris County Board of Elections, County Clerk, County Counsel, Deputy Attorney General’s Office, third-party attorneys, candidates and voters have spent weeks in the courtroom testifying and arguing an array of apparently problematic mail-in ballot practices utilized by the local candidates.
In an effort to avoid the same scenario in the upcoming 2015 Primary Election we request your assistance in investigating this matter.
The alleged irregularities include voter intimidation, breaks in the chain of custody of the mail-in ballots and possible mail fraud.
In 2011, Superior Court Judge Weisenbeck heard complaints from then-incumbent Morris County Freeholder Margaret Nordstrom that irregular absentees from Parsippany had robbed her of a Primary win. Weisenbeck’s ruling initially gave Nordstrom the nomination, though a series of other legal and political challenges eventually landed her challenger, Hank Lyon with her seat.
Along with Lyon’s win, questions were raised about absentee ballots going to Parsippany Council Candidates calling themselves “Team Parsippany,” a slate of Vincent Ferrara, Michael dePierro, and Brian Stanton, all eventual winners.
Judge Weisenbeck in the case MARGARET NORDSTROM v. WILLIAM LYON, DOCKET NO. A-0291-11T1 in part stated in a decision dated February 7, 2012 “an additional witness, Jigar Shah, testified that he collected ballots for people in the community and transported them to the Morris County Board of Elections. He said that he did not witness anyone fill in a ballot or sign a Vote by Mail envelope. Although he did not know the exact number of ballots for which he was the bearer, he said it was possibly thirty-two. He did not collect ballots directly from the voters. Shah could not remember the names of those who actually handed him ballots. He also was unaware that he was required to sign the outer envelope in the voter’s presence to ensure that the ballot was valid…After considering all of the evidence, the Law Division made extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law. It divided the issues into two main areas: (1) “Illegal Votes Received” and (2) “Campaign Act Violations.” First, the court held that thirty-two mail-in ballots were illegally counted because they were “not brought to the Board [of Elections] by a bearer who took the ballot directly from the voters, thus breaking the ‘chain of custody.'” The court further found this illegality is compounded by the testimony of the voters that (i) they never received a mail-in ballot, (ii) they resided in a senior citizens complex, (iii) three of these voters did not vote this year, (iv) one voter has never voted at all, and (vii) that all but one voter (who cast a provisional ballot) needed the services of a Gujarati interpreter and/or translator.”
Jigar Shah was appointed as Mayor Barberio’s liaison to the Indian-American community the following year.
Shah’s nephew, Milin Shah, a candidate for Parsippany Council in 2013 was asked by Parsippany Focus for his reaction to hearing news of a possible investigation into the 2013 race. “I’m happy to hear the Morris County Board of Elections is finally requesting this investigation,” Milin Shah said. “In my humble opinion, Vincent Ferrara and Michael Strumolo deserved to be the nominees for the Parsippany GOP in 2013. We have two sitting councilmen who are undeserving of being Parsippany’s representatives.”
Robert Crawford, a candidate for Council in the 2011 GOP primary and again for the 2013 general election called for an investigation for possible voter fraud in the 2011 election as well. “It is absolutely critical that those who may have broken the law be brought to justice before the general election,” Crawford said at the time. “That’s why I’m calling for an immediate investigation.”
As members of “Team Parsippany” both Councilmen Stanton and dePierro agreed, and welcomed an investigation by the Attorney General at that time. “I would like us to be vindicated, so I would love to see the attorney general investigate,” dePierro said. “The allegations are untrue and insulting to us. Absolutely, make them investigate.”
On hearing of the new allegations, dePierro told Parsippany Focus that “the number of absentee ballots cast in 2013 and the voting pattern of those ballots was very, very unusual.”
When asked if he would welcome an investigation, Ferrara’s only comment at the time was “No. I will not join you in anything.”
Former Councilman Jonathan Nelson, a candidate for mayor in 2013 received 70% of the absentee vote in the 2013 General Election. At the time, Mayor Barberio’s attorney Alan Zakin unsuccessfully sought a court order throwing out all absentee ballots in that race. Nelson was never accused of any voting improprieties then or currently, and a Superior Court judge ordered that all absentee ballots be counted and valid.
“I welcome…no…I demand an investigation into absentee voting in Parsippany,” Jonathan Nelson told Parsippany Focus. “But the investigation should have occurred when the alleged irregularities took place, not two years later. By revealing that they requested an investigation just two months before another election is an outrage. If the Commissioners goal was to suppress the vote in Parsippany for the upcoming election, they succeeded.”