Absentee ballot fraud in AC

June 5, 2009 5:43:40 PM PDT
Two workers for a candidate in this week's Atlantic City mayoral election were charged Friday with voter fraud involving absentee ballots - something long alleged but rarely proven in the nation's second-largest gambling resort. David Callaway, 45, of Pleasantville, and Luquay Q. Zahir, 34, of Atlantic City were charged with voter fraud and tampering with public documents.

The state Attorney General's Office said they submitted absentee ballots purporting to be votes for Marty Small, a city councilman running for mayor, from voters who had never voted.

Days before the Democratic primary, incumbent Mayor Lorenzo Langford went to court alleging ballot fraud on behalf of Small's campaign, and asked a judge to impound more than 500 disputed absentee ballots. The judge declined, and Langford trounced Small and a third candidate in the primary.

"These men unlawfully tampered with messenger ballots and fraudulently submitted ballots as votes for Small from people who, in fact, never received the ballots and were never given the opportunity to exercise their right to vote," said Attorney General Anne Milgram. "Election fraud is a serious crime. We will aggressively prosecute anyone who tries to disenfranchise voters in New Jersey."

Messenger ballots are a special form of absentee ballot intended for the sick and shut-in. They enable someone else to pick up a ballot for a person unable to make it to a polling place on Election Day, and deliver it back to election officials once completed.

Zahir was being held on $50,000 bail. Callaway was being sought Friday evening. The telephone at his home was disconnected, but The Press of Atlantic City spoke with relatives who said Callaway was traveling to Washington, D.C. to try to protest an investigation by state officials into Tuesday's election.

Small, who was trounced in Tuesday's primary by incumbent Lorenzo Langford, declined comment in a brief telephone interview. Andrew Weber, Langford's chief political strategist, welcomed the arrests.

"We certainly knew this was going on, and we're encouraged that the attorney general is taking it so seriously," he said.

Allegations of fraud and abuse involving absentee ballots have long swirled around elections in Atlantic City. Those claims increased in frequency in recent years when friends and relatives of Craig Callaway, the former City Council president now serving a federal prison term for bribery, perfected the art of collecting and delivering hundreds of absentee ballots.

Their efforts often determine the result of elections here and in neighboring Pleasantville, where candidates often go to bed on election night thinking they have won, only to be sorely disappointed by lunch the next day.

David Callaway, Craig's brother, is awaiting trial for his alleged role in another notorious Atlantic City corruption scandal that happened after Crag Callaway had pleaded guilty to bribery but was awaiting sentencing.

The Callaways and others are charged with luring a council rival to a motel, setting him up with a prostitute, secretly filming them having sex, and trying to blackmail him with the tape.

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