NJ Dems calls for operational investigation in South Jersey

Credit: (Insider NJ)
Craig callaway

Editor’s Note: This coverage is made possible by Votebeat, a draft non-partisan report covering the integrity of local elections and access to voting. The article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat Repost Policy.

More than six months after the 2020 election, Republicans in some states are still searching for elusive evidence of voter fraud that they say robbed their White House party.

After dozens of recounts, lawsuits and private investigations such as the ongoing vote “audit” in Maricopa County, Arizona, they found none.

But credible allegations of mail-order fraud and other voting irregularities continue to circulate from a corner of New Jersey, where Democrats are demanding inquiries and shouting at election watchers ahead of next month’s primary.

At the center of the controversy is a political agent who helped elect an entire generation of South Jersey Democrats to city council, school board and state legislature. Craig Callaway is also a former convict who spent 40 months in federal prison after accepting $ 36,000 in bribes while he was president of the Atlantic City Council.

Despite his criminal record, which also includes a federal extortion conviction in a sex tape he orchestrated, Callaway was able to build a voting machine that commands large swathes of black voters from the poorest neighborhoods of Atlantic. City, where he grew up. His 12 siblings work alongside him, including his sister Gwendolyn, who chairs the city’s Democratic committee.

Callaway’s alliance with his party met with great success last year when, in exchange for $ 110,000, he signed up with Democrat-turned-Republican Jeff Van Drew in the 2nd Congressional District of New Jersey. With help from Callaway, Van Drew edged Amy Kennedy in a scathing loss to the New Jersey Progressives.

The political break becomes personal

Now, the rift between Callaway and the party leaders who relied on him for so many years has taken an unpleasant and personal turn that has raised questions of vote harvesting and mail fraud that some supporters of former President Donald Trump claim, without evidence. , was rife elsewhere.

LILY: Controversy over voting in Atlantic City

LILY: Craig Callaway’s role in Van Drew’s victory

Atlantic County Democrats last week formally asked the New Jersey attorney general’s office to investigate allegations that Callaway manipulated mail-in ballots in the 2020 general election. The complaint, reported for the first time by Atlantic City Press, alleges that Callaway improperly assisted more than 125 people with filling out and delivering their ballots by mail.

While the complaint was unsigned, it raises the same type of issues recorded in a July 2020 complaint to the state by attorneys for Atlantic City mayor Marty Small Jr., who faces a main opponent supported by Callaway. The 2020 complaint cites allegations that Callaway illegally tampered with ballots for 15 years. It also contains a video that appears to show Callaway obtaining provisional ballots for residents of the city’s second quarter and helping voters fill them out.

Election registers, public documents and other documents reviewed by NJ Spotlight News show that Callaway, members of his family and other associates of his organization “helped” hundreds of Atlantic City voters in an election dating back to 2017. Election day videos last November show Callaway walking into polling stations, requesting provisional ballots, and filling them out.

State law allows the use of these assistants if they are officially registered and declared at the voting booth. But the law was intended to be for limited use, primarily for closed-minded people and others who cannot sign postal ballots. The videos show Callaway working with able-bodied voters who sit down with him and watch him finish their ballot.

As questions about Callaway’s methods mount, top Atlantic County Democratic officials have reached the point of denouncing an agent they’ve built and adopted for years.

“ The time has come to cut the ties ”

“The time has come for the party to finally sever ties with Craig Callaway,” said Democratic President of Atlantic City Michael Suleiman. “How can we claim to be the party of open and fair voting with a guy like this by our side?”

Suleiman acknowledged that the party leadership over the years is responsible for promoting Callaway despite widespread allegations that he abused postal voting procedures through an elaborate and efficient system of ballot messengers. He said the state legislature should now consider new limits on the use of voting assistants, similar to restrictions on voting messengers enacted in 2015 through the so-called “Callaway Act”.

This law limited messengers to issuing only three postal or postal ballot papers.

Despite lingering questions about Callaway, Suleiman said, some politicians from both parties continue to engage him because they know his network can trigger an election. Many of these same politicians campaign as candidates for reform.

“It’s outright hypocrisy, but it’s been an unfortunate fact of life in Atlantic County for a long time,” Suleiman said.

The appeals to Callaway and his organization were not returned. The attorney general’s office declined to discuss any investigation into the consultant.

Atlantic City Voters

In an interview with NJ Spotlight News last fall, Callaway said his methods were legal and claimed that the allegations against him came from political opponents and “losers” who do not understand the needs of black voters in Atlantic. City.

He also denied illegally paying for ballot messengers and said his success came from his experience growing up in black neighborhoods with a large family deeply rooted in the community. Many of his siblings, as well as members of his extended family, now work for Callaway or lead political groups allied with him.

“The point is, I have a wealth of experience, a wealth of common sense and a wealth of intelligence,” Callaway said in this interview. “I am effective because I know my own community.”

After signing with Van Drew last fall, Callaway became increasingly isolated within his own party and found himself embroiled in bizarre public feuds with old friends. He called Kennedy, who hired him in the 2020 Congressional primary a “loser,” and claims she knocked him out of a win bonus after the primary.

He also openly fought with Small, another old friend, and supported unsubstantiated claims that Small and his wife allowed child abuse in their home. Small angrily denied the complaint and sued Callaway for libel.

Callaway also continues to attack the state’s top Democrats, including Gov. Phil Murphy, claiming they have abandoned minority voters in Atlantic City. Videos of political meetings show him issuing nebulous “warnings” to Democratic lawmakers, and he supports several primary candidates who have not been approved by the county organization.

Impact on clean election messages

Outside observers say the chaos and growing publicity over alleged Callaway-related electoral fraud is undermining progressive messages about a clean election at a time when the party should move forward.

“It continues to be an embarrassment for the party and give ammunition to people like Donald Trump who claim Democrats are holding a fraudulent election,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University .

Rasmussen, who served as press secretary to former Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey, noted the party made huge strides in 2020 by increasing voter turnout through methods such as postal voting and mailboxes. deposit. Other changes are underway this year as the state rolls out early voting.

“Unfortunately, no matter how progressive we claim to be, some politicians on both sides will continue to do whatever they can to win,” Rasmussen said. “It’s basic hypocrisy.”

The political landscape, indeed, is littered with candidates and elected officials like Mayor Small and former Atlantic City mayor Frank Gilliam, who spoke out against Callaway after working with him or asking for his help.

Last year, for example, Democratic leaders pointed out that Brigid Harrison, a Congressional 2nd District candidate for their party, was eager to meet with Callaway and seek his support in a private meeting ahead of the country’s primary elections. last year. When Callaway later decided to back Kennedy, Harrison called on the US Department of Justice under Trump to send election observers to Atlantic County.

Electoral transparency, conflicts with the Democratic Party

“We are extremely concerned about the fairness and transparency of elections,” Harrison said at the time. “It’s been a problem in Atlantic County for some time. Allegations of electoral fraud largely focused on Craig Callaway. “

After losing Callaway’s support in the general election, the Kennedy campaign also criticized Callaway in substantive conversations with reporters.

“We obviously didn’t make the best choice in hiring this guy,” a Kennedy aide told NJ Spotlight News in a post-election interview.

Priscilla Dimario, a political consultant who has worked extensively in Atlantic County, says the politicians who breathe life into the Callaway organization must bear the blame for continuing conflicts within the local Democratic Party.

Dimario is one of many Democrats who say they saw Callaway’s juggernaut virtually take control of county government offices during the election, carrying dozens of Allied vote messengers and delivering absent ballots in large trash bags in plastic. Complaints and letters to law enforcement officials, she said, go unanswered.

In state Superior Court testimony that surfaced last year, a former Callaway employee said he had helped his boss fix the ballots for more than a decade. The employee, for example, said it was common to change signatures on ballots and Callaway even used steam engines to open sealed ballots for editing.

“Everyone’s stumbled upon it from time to time, everyone knows it continues, but it continues and Craig continues to operate,” Dimario said. “What’s really frustrating is that nothing happens to him because he has power and isn’t afraid to use it. What does that say about New Jersey? “

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About Therese Williams

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