NJ Political Organizer Charged Over 2022 Ballot Fraud Scheme

Political operative worked with Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) in the midterms.
NJ Political Organizer Charged Over 2022 Ballot Fraud Scheme
People vote on election day on Nov. 8, 2022, in Grand Rapids, Mich. After months of candidates campaigning, Americans are voting in the midterm elections to decide close races across the nation. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

A New Jersey political organizer and operative who has worked with both major parties has been arrested and charged with election fraud, federal prosecutors announced.

Craig Callaway, 64, a former Atlantic City council president, was arrested on Feb. 7 and charged with one count of depriving, defrauding, and attempting to deprive and defraud New Jersey residents of a fair and impartially conducted election process by the fraudulent procurement, casting, and tabulation of ballots.

According to federal prosecutors, Mr. Callaway and people working for him approached people in Atlantic City in the fall of 2022 and offered $30 to $50 for one day of work at the Atlantic County Clerk’s Office.

People who accepted the offer were transported to the office by Mr. Callaway and his workers. Once there, they handed over their identification, which Mr. Callaway and his subordinates used to fill out a part of mail-in ballot applications identifying themselves as authorized messengers for others, according to authorities.

The people took the forms into the office and received mail-in ballots for people they did not know, prosecutors said. The people gave the ballots to Mr. Callaway and his workers. The ballots were later cast under the names of other people and many were counted in the official election tally.

New Jersey law requires voters to apply for mail-in ballots at least seven days before an election. A voter can designate an individual as a “messenger” who is then authorized to acquire their mail-in ballot and take the ballot to that person.

Once filled out, the ballots can be delivered by “bearers” on behalf of the voters.

If convicted, the law brings a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gain or loss from the offense.

“Holding free and fair elections is a bedrock principle of our democracy. As alleged in the complaint, the defendant attempted to deprive New Jersey residents of a fair election by fraudulently procuring and casting ballots,” U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Philip Sellinger, an appointee of President Joe Biden, said in a statement.

He said the actions against Mr. Callaway “reflect our office’s commitment to hold to account those who try to undermine the electoral process.”

“Voter fraud at any level chips away at the faith people have in our system,” said James Dennehy, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark office. “We’re unable as American citizens to hold our government accountable if our votes are compromised. The FBI and our law enforcement partners understand the gravity of protecting the process and will bring those criminals who break the law to justice.”

A lawyer representing Mr. Callaway didn’t respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

Operative’s Past

Mr. Callaway, who previously served a prison term for a conviction of bribery while he was a councilman, has worked for years with members of both parties.

“It’s no secret that candidates from both parties have hired Callaway in the past to help them win elections. Those who hired him cannot plead ignorance now. Everyone in Atlantic County knows exactly what Callaway’s operation is and the blatant illegality of it all,” Michael Suleiman, chairman of the Atlantic County Democrats, said in a statement.

“As someone who believes mail-in voting is still a safe and easy way to increase voter participation, today’s news illustrates the need for more election reform. I will be speaking to the governor’s office and legislative leaders about legislation to ban payments to messengers and bearers, as well as mandate prepaid postage on all mail-in ballots so that voters do not need to engage third parties to safely return their ballots.”

The committee previously sued Mr. Callaway, alleging that he was engaging in an “ongoing election fraud scheme.”

Atlantic County Republican Chairman Don Purdy told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Mr. Callaway can “make or break elections” and that the charge highlights how voters can receive mail-in ballots for any reason.

“This thing has been stretched so far out and gives opportunity to do things that aren’t the best and aren’t legal,” Mr. Purdy said. “People go in and fill them out, it’s like a candy store.”

Jeff Van Drew, a former Democrat, paid Mr. Callaway for the 2020 and 2022 elections.

“Congressman Van Drew received nearly 140,000 votes in the November 2022 general election, only 851 of which came from vote-by-mail ballots in Atlantic City,” Mr. Van Drew’s campaign said in a statement.

“We never have and never would condone any illegal activity. In fact, as is always the case with our vendors, the campaign had a signed consulting contract. Mr. Callaway signed the contract for that election, and previous elections, specifically stating that as an independent contractor he ‘agrees all work and services provided shall adhere to all federal, state, and local laws and regulations.’”

Mr. Callaway is still scheduled to speak at a Feb. 17 fundraiser for Liberty and Prosperity, a nonprofit that describes him in its program as “one of the best ‘get-out-the-vote’ organizers in America.”

“I’ve been involved in many election challenges and recounts over the years and in the past Craig Callaway’s work has always been meticulous,” Seth Grossman, head of the group, told the Inquirer. “He was always careful in warning his workers to comply with the law and make sure the voters were properly registered and filled out the form.”