A Staten island grand jury has identified numerous instances of ballot harvesting fraud in a race for City Council last year — including a ballot submitted on behalf of a dead person and signature fraud involving dozens of other absentee ballots.
The unprecedented 38-page grand jury report released by Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon called for changes in state election law including requiring official government-issued ID to vote. But it does not specify the race in question, nor does it file criminal charges against anyone.
Sources told The Post that the criminal investigation focused on the campaign of Marko Kepi, who narrowly lost a GOP primary race to Mid-Island Councilman David Karr.
“This case is the poster child for the necessity of voter ID laws. Unfortunately, the real victims here are the hundreds of residents whose identities and votes were stolen. And this will happen again until our state legislature takes election integrity and security seriously,” said Carr.
The Post previously reported about accusations of ballot harvesting and other fraud allegedly committed by the Kepi campaign, including registering a dead man to vote for him — as a female.
“This Grand Jury finds that an absentee ballot application bearing the forged signature
of a deceased individual was submitted to the Board [of Elections], naming a CANDIDATE 2 campaign staffer, STAFFER 1, as the authorized collector of his absentee ballot,” the report said.
“The deceased individual was a man who passed away in mid-2020. However, in May 2021, the Board processed a voter registration form purportedly signed by him with his pedigree information, including his date of birth and the last four digits of his Social Security number, but identifying his gender as female.”
“These documents are forged. The deceased man did not sign any documents either to re- register to vote or to vote by absentee ballot – let alone to vote using an absentee ballot handled,” the grand jury report said.
Kepi had no immediate comment.
The investigation said the fraud did not affect the outcome of the election, with the elections board rejecting many of fraudulent ballots but cautions: “we do not know what we do not know” and “the abundant opportunities for unscrupulous candidates…to abuse the system without probable detection or criminal sanction cry out for remedy.”
The grand jury also reported 200 “mismatched” or suspect signatures on other absentee ballots submitted by staffers or volunteers with the Kepi campaign, and received testimony from “multiple registered voters explaining that the purported signatures on absentee ballot requests bearing their names were not, in fact, their signatures. Nor had they authorized anyone to sign their names for them.”
One person connected to the Kepi campaign signed more than “two dozen” absentee ballot applications and voter registration forms, it found.
“That author, by signing – that is, forging – different voters’ signatures again and again has committed multiple counts of criminal offenses including Forgery in the Second Degree in
violation of Penal Law … Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree in
violation of Penal Law… and Identity Theft in the First Degree,” the report said.
The report said the Kepi campaign submitted a batch of more than 1,000 absentee ballots to the elections board. Many lacked voter signatures and hand other defects and were summarily rejected.
The grand jury also found “one hundred instances” where Kepi’s campaign submitted “cure affirmation” forms that indicated fraud based on a forensic exam of voter signatures.
“This report should alarm all involved in the electoral process on Staten Island and across
New York city and state, including the general voting public” McMahon said.
Despite ample evidence, the grand jury report claimed it did have evidence to charge any specific campaign staffer with fraud.
Voting by mail or absentee expanded dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic as a way to curb the spread of the deadly bug at polling sites. Currently, anyone can cite COVID-19 as an excuse under state law to vote by absentee ballot instead of in person.
Previously, only voters who were disabled, seriously ill or homebound could request an absentee ballot.
“While I fully support making voting as convenient as possible and applaud the efforts of
candidates and their campaigns to inspire voters to express their constitutional right to vote, the accuracy, security, and public confidence in our elections must never be sacrificed in pursuit of these goals,” McMahon said.
“I personally do not believe the outcome of this particular primary was affected
by the misconduct found by the Grand Jury. However, the report does provide an aperture
to view many possible scenarios where the results could be tainted if action is not taken.”
The grand jury report recommends:
- Requiring voters to present some form of government-issued identification before voting, either physically at a poll site or by absentee ballot.
- Requiring local boards of elections to retain the services of qualified experts in the field of forensic document examination to review absentee ballot envelope signatures for potential fraud.
- Prohibiting absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots themselves from being sent to an address associated with a candidate’s campaign, a practice referred to as “vote harvesting” or “ballot harvesting”, and barring campaign staffers from handling absentee ballot or cure letters and affirmations.