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Absentee Ballot Scandal Grows in Atlantic; Harris Says Outside Review May Be Necessary SONYA HARRIS FOR COUNTY CLERK
RELEASE: Immediate, CONTACT: Sonya Harris
April 24, 2006 645-3299
Sonya Harris, Republican candidate for Atlantic County Clerk, said today that the emerging scandal surrounding messenger applications and the issuance of absentee ballots for the Atlantic City Board of Education election Ã¢â‚¬Å“indicate lax management and administration on the part of the county clerkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s office which could result in compromising the integrity of the electoral process.Ã¢â‚¬Â?
Harris, who raised the issue of messenger applications for ballots last week, said Ã¢â‚¬Å“extremely serious questions have been raised concerning the absentee ballots and whether fraud was involved in obtaining them.Ã¢â‚¬Â?
The county clerk is responsible for accepting the applications, determining their validity and issuing the ballots, Harris said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Now, with the controversy swirling and the questions being raised, there is a genuine concern that the clerkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s office was less than diligent in carrying out its responsibilities,Ã¢â‚¬Â? she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The absentee ballot system has a less than sterling history in Atlantic City and has been marked by litigation and allegations of improper conduct. We may very well have reached a point at which an outside agency may be required to review the entire process to determine where and how the clerkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s office fell short.Ã¢â‚¬Â?
Freeholder Thomas Russo, a resident of Atlantic City, applied for an absentee ballot for the school district election, only to be sent a ballot for Hamilton Township. Russo returned from an out of town trip to cast his vote in person at his normal polling place.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If the clerkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s office is unable to keep municipalities straight, how can the public have confidence that it is able to deal properly and correctly with validating registrations and signatures?Ã¢â‚¬Â? she asked. Ã¢â‚¬Å“How many other individuals received ballots in error and were unable to cast their votes because time ran out before they could secure the proper ballot?Ã¢â‚¬Â?
Harris called last week for greater scrutiny and verification procedures for messenger applications after it was revealed that nearly 1,000 such applications were delivered to the clerkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s office a few days prior to the April 18 election.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The messenger application system is an open invitation to fraud and events of recent days have reinforced my view,Ã¢â‚¬Â? Harris said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is time for Atlantic County to take the initiative to explore changes in the law to assure that all votes cast in all elections are legitimate.Ã¢â‚¬Â?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Citizens and taxpayers must have an election system in which they can have the utmost confidence that it is fair and honest,Ã¢â‚¬Â? she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Unfortunately, at the moment in Atlantic City, that is not the case.Ã¢â‚¬Â?
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