The state attorney general is arguing that Doris Rowell’s challenge of the Pleasantville school board election in November “lacks a proper basis ... to proceed,” in a Feb. 21 letter to Judge Julio Mendez.
Rowell, who is due back in court on the matter Thursday, said Monday she has responded to the attorney general with more specifics on votes that should not have been counted, and with information on how the rejected votes show a pattern of fraud.
In her amended complaint, Rowell alleged that Atlantic City resident and former council president Craig Callaway, his family members and others associated with him, improperly handled vote-by-mail ballots. She accuses Callaway, who operates an effective political machine to deliver mail-in ballots in Atlantic County, of holding on to hundreds of the ballots, changing some of the votes, and parceling them out to bearers unknown to the voters three at a time to deliver them to the Board of Elections at the last minute.
Callaway has previously denied Rowell’s allegations. He could not be reached for comment Monday.
The Attorney General’s Office is representing the Atlantic County Board of Elections and the Atlantic County Superintendent of Elections in the election challenge.
Deputy Attorney General Beau Wilson, on behalf of Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, said in the letter that Rowell’s complaint is too vague.
“The amended complaint references possible issues with signatures and with bearers, but remains generalized and uncompliant with Title 19,” he wrote. “(It) does not adequately apprise the winning candidates or the Board of how illegal votes may have been received or legal votes rejected, sufficient to change the result.”
Rowell’s response to the attorney general’s letter stresses the need for law enforcement or other authorities to investigate the Callaway organization.
“(We) truly believe that Craig Callaway and his family’s political organization are in direct violation of the voters rights by Craig being allowed to have more than three mail-in ballots” in his possession, including hundreds or thousands at his home and other headquarters, including his vehicles, Jerome Page wrote on behalf of himself and Rowell.
“All votes are votes,” Callaway said after a December hearing in which Rowell and Atlantic City Council candidate Sharon Zappia were granted recounts in their elections, the results of which were unchanged. Both accused Callaway of improperly providing votes-by-mail for their opponents.
“There is no difference between a vote-by-mail and one at the machine,” Callaway said then. “Fraud is fraud. They want to make it look like all fraud is through vote-by-mail.”
In her latest complaint, filed Dec. 17, Rowell is representing herself after being unable to find an attorney locally because of concerns over conflict of interest, or cost, she said.
Her complaint alleges that school board candidates Juanita Pryce, Alejandrina Alberto and Yadira Falcon hired the Callaway family to work on their behalf, and includes affidavits from Michael C. Bibb, president of the Egg Harbor Township Democratic Committee, and Pleasantville school board member Jerome Page, who was Rowell’s running mate and was re-elected.
Rowell had 733 votes at the polls on election night, far more than the two candidates who ultimately passed her: Pryce, with 230; and Alberto, with 198.
Pryce got 632 mail-in votes and Alberto 654 to Rowell’s 85, giving them the final win.
“Our voting rights are being taken away, and that’s not fair,” Rowell said.
The affidavit from Bibb said he witnessed Callaway sitting in the vestibule of the old Atlantic County Court House in Mays Landing, where the Board of Elections is located, on Nov. 1, 2019. He said Callaway had a stack of paperwork in front of him, and that Atlantic County Clerk Ed McGettigan came out and asked the security guard on duty how things were going.
“The security guard responded things were going ‘OK’ with the exception of accusations of alleged racism,” the affidavit said. “Upon hearing this comment, Mr. Callaway took offense and Mr. McGettigan made an effort to calm the situation.”
Page’s affidavit stated that Rowell called him on Oct. 12, 2019, and told him that she had witnessed Craig Callaway’s brother David Callaway at the entrance of the Pleasantville W. Milan Avenue senior apartment complex, carrying more than three absentee ballot envelopes in his back pocket.
Under state law, messengers and bearers are each only supposed to handle three mail-in ballots in addition to their own.