ATLANTIC CITY — LuQuay Q. Zahir knew the messenger ballots he collected for this year’s Democratic primary would be under heavy scrutiny. That didn’t stop him from aggressively pursuing them — he just took added precautions.
Zahir presented 22 affidavits Tuesday he said were signed by voters attesting to the legitimacy of their messenger ballots, designed only for “sick or confined” residents. He said he wrote the statements and asked voters to sign them after collecting their ballots. He did not have affidavits for each of the messenger ballots he delivered, only gathering them from people he did not know prior to delivering their vote.
“The state doesn’t know about these,” Zahir said in an interview with The Press of Atlantic City.
But state authorities say they know a lot that Zahir hoped to keep secret about his messenger ballots. The Attorney General’s Office says six of the ballots he submitted were never received by voters and more than 100 of the ballot applications he handed in were tampered with. On Friday, State Police arrested Zahir, commonly known as “Q,” and brought similar voter-fraud charges against David Callaway, the city’s former director of Public Works.
As of Tuesday night, Callaway remained at-large. He is reportedly working to avoid a formal arrest and arrange a bail hearing Friday, the same day he is scheduled to appear in court for a hearing on unrelated charges concerning his alleged involvement in a scheme to blackmail outgoing Councilman Eugene Robinson. Callaway’s attorney in that case, Harry Leszchyn, said he recently advised Callaway be in court Friday and “see what happens.”
Callaway is experienced with the art of absentee and messenger ballots, actively collecting them for years with his family’s high-profile political network. Zahir is a different story. He said this year’s primary was the first time he worked on a campaign, hoping to help his friend, Councilman Marty Small, take the mayor’s seat.
Zahir delivered 119 messenger-ballot applications for the resort's election. The Atlantic County Clerk's Office rejected 54 of those applications for a variety of reasons, including discrepancies with voter signatures and identifications. Despite his lack of experience with the ballots, Zahir said he knows he handled them properly.
“They might as well say I shot Kennedy,” he said of the state’s charges. “That’s how ridiculous this is.”
But why, of all campaign duties, would Zahir choose to contribute to the resort’s most controversial campaign method upon his introduction to politics? Zahir said he knew he would be effective because of his popularity in the resort.
Did his popularity extend to voters who were physically unable to get to the polls? Voters have come forward to state and private investigators claiming they are neither sick nor confined. Zahir stopped short of acknowledging that the voters were not ill or shut-in, but argued that the law should be rewritten if authorities want to limit the use of the ballots.
“The language is vague for a reason,” he said. “It’s to encourage people to vote. ... They may have been sick of going to the polls. There’s your ‘sick or confined.’”
Meanwhile, the state continues to stay active in its probe.
Investigators recently subpoenaed several members of Small’s campaign for grand jury testimony, including its manager, Thomas Quirk. Authorities previously subpoenaed Atlantic County Clerk Ed McGettigan and Superintendent of Elections John W. Mooney.
Zahir’s attorney, James J. Leonard Jr., said his client is being used as political leverage. He accused Attorney General Anne Milgram of suddenly becoming active in Atlantic City to help Gov. Jon S. Corzine size up to Chris Christie, a former U.S. attorney running against the governor in November.
“The attorney general hasn’t been in Atlantic City in years, meanwhile, (the federal government) is taking down all these (city) council members,” Leonard said. “Now, all of a sudden, there’s a governor’s race and the state wants to be a part of it.”