ATLANTIC CITY - State Sen. Jim Whelan's legislation placing tougher restrictions on messenger- and absentee-ballot laws has been criticized by Republicans as being too late and too lenient. You can now add "too inclusive" to that list.
Local Republicans say ex-convicts should be prohibited from handling messenger ballots, which are designated for sick or confined voters. The prior criminal records of those recently arrested for allegedly submitting fraudulent messenger ballots in Atlantic City's Democratic primary for mayor serve as a good example of the problems that can arise, they say.
"Should ex-cons be allowed to handle messengers? Of course not," said Keith Davis, head of Atlantic County's Republican Committee.
New Jersey allows ex-convicts to re-register to vote as long as they are not in lock-up, on parole or on probation. Some states prohibit ex-convicts from voting after they have been fully released, often a holdover from exclusionary Jim Crow-era laws such as poll taxes and ballot-box literacy tests. By state law, if a person is eligible to vote, that person can handle a messenger ballot.
But some local Republicans say it is necessary to add restrictions on voters with criminal pasts, both to eliminate the potential for misconduct when handling ballots and to get Republicans to their ultimate goal.
"What we have always fought for is to make (the ballot delivery) limited to direct family members," Davis said.
Assemblyman Vince Polistina, R-Atlantic, said he would support a clause that barred ex-convicts from handling ballots unless they were delivering for an immediate family member.
Whelan, D-Atlantic, said Sunday that he sympathizes with both sides of the argument but that nit-picking would not result in legislative change.
"If we wait around for the perfect bill, we'll never have a bill," he said.
Whelan's law initially limited messengers to delivering one ballot, but it was later increased to five. Once the bill went to committee, some called for the number to be doubled. Although Whelan said he still prefers a five-ballot limit, the real problem is when messengers collect an inordinate number of ballots. That problem, he said, will be solved with the new legislation, which went into effect July 1.
Whelan also said the prosecution of abusers will help dismantle a vehicle for corruption that has been a fixture in Atlantic City for nearly a decade.
The Attorney General's Office has arrested five ballot bearers since the June 2 election. Authorities say their investigation is ongoing.
LuQuay Q. Zahir, one of the first ballot bearers arrested, pleaded guilty in 1999 to providing false statements for his gun licenses. Authorities branded him a "straw purchaser," someone who legally buys weapons, then sells them to people who cannot legally own them.
Floyd Tally, arrested June 12 on voter fraud charges, served years in federal prison on charges connected to his involvement with a resort gang known as the Abdullahs. He also has had other law-enforcement problems more recently.
In 2007, he pleaded guilty to three counts of driving without a license after initially facing three tickets for driving with a suspended license. He was fined $1,617.
Weeks later, police arrested Tally in Burlington County and charged him with tampering with public records in connection with allegations dating to June 2002 that he had managed to get two separate New Jersey driver's licenses. He was recently aquitted of those charges.
David Callaway, brother of imprisoned former City Council President Craig Callaway, is under indictment for his alleged involvement in a blackmail scheme against Councilman Eugene Robinson. He has continued to maintain his innocence, as has Tally, who is also charged in that case.
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