The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ)
DEAD MAN VOTING
Mercer County lawmaker admits to delivering mail-in ballot for deceased friend, GOP and Dems argue over intent »
TRENTON » Mercer County Commissioner Sam Frisby admits he delivered a ballot on behalf of a dead voter in the 2020 presidential election.
But Frisby, a Democrat formerly known as freeholder, denied any criminal intent in hand-delivering a ballot for the late Luis Mollinedo last October.
Frisby signed bearer documents and delivered Mollinedo’s ballot to the Mercer County Board of Elections on Oct. 30, 2020. He also delivered another ballot on behalf of the decedent’s grieving widow, Aubrey Mollinedo, who works at the Board of Elections as an election investigator, according to records obtained by The Trentonian.
Luis Mollinedo died of COVID-19 on or about Oct. 25, and Aubrey Mollinedo wrote about the tragic loss on Facebook.
Aubrey Mollinedo in another Facebook post said she was “grateful” for Frisby’s ballot-delivery assistance and “glad Luis A. Mollinedo voted before he transitioned!” according to a screengrab shared with The Trentonian.
Ileana Schirmer, chairwoman of the Hamilton Township Republican Committee, said an election fraud investigation was initiated by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office and forwarded to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office concerning Frisby and Aubrey Mollinedo.
Neither the prosecutor’s office nor the AG’s Office would confirm or deny the existence of an election fraud investigation, but NJ Advance Media reported last week that Frisby is under investigation by the AG’s Office, citing an unnamed “law enforcement source.”
Frisby told The Trentonian that he hasn’t been informed that he’s the target of a criminal probe into allegations of attempted voter fraud and hasn’t been asked to provide a statement by the AG’s Office.
The county legislator wrote a letter to election officials last fall, which he provided to The Trentonian, telling his side of the ballot-delivery story. He also released a new statement this week containing many of the same details from the Nov. 13 letter.
Frisby acknowledged in the letter that Aubrey Mollinedo was his former aide and her son Amani is his current aide. When the Mollinedo family tested positive for COVID-19 last year, Frisby and his wife supported the Mollinedos as their “main connection to the outside world” by dropping off food and supplies at the Mollinedo residence, he said, because the Mollinedos were “forced to quarantine.”
“I understood from the family that before his passing Luis wanted to ensure he submitted his ballot for this election,” Frisby wrote.
In a statement he released this week, Frisby described how he acted as the “mail carrier for a grieving family” who was still in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.
State law disqualifies the ballots of people who die before the polls open on Election Day. Thus, Mercer County election officials rejected Luis Mollinedo’s ballot in the Nov. 3 election.
“I did not realize that Luis’ ballot was ineligible until Aubrey, who was checking online to see if their ballots had been received and counted, called me to see if I had delivered
their ballots,” Frisby said in his letter dated Nov. 13, adding a Board of Elections supervisor later informed him about the legal requirement for a voter’s mail-in ballot to be rejected if the voter died before the polls opened.
“Honestly, I did not even consider this issue, and I would think that many of our neighbors have not either,” Frisby said in the letter. “In our current healthpandemic, it is great to see that the process is working and that only the votes of those who are eligible on Election Day will count.”
The Trentonian called Aubrey Mollinedo seeking comment for this story Tuesday afternoon.
“I understand,” she said. “I cannot help you.”
Schirmer is calling for Frisby and Aubrey Mollinedo to be held accountable.
“Aubrey is an Election Investigator; she knows full well that a person who passes away before an election cannot vote,” Schirmer said via email last week. “She and Sam were attempting to pass her husband’s ballot through knowing they were breaking the law, just so happened that the ballot was flagged by one of the workers.”
Schirmer also says Aubrey Mollinedo is responsible for posting an image of a raised fist with the words “Respect my Vote” on the Mercer County Board of Elections voter information web page last year.
Mercer County Republican chairwoman Lisa Richford demanded a federal investigation into the raised fist publication last year, calling it “political propaganda” for the Black Lives Matter movement. County officials removed the raised fist image from the county website due to negative feedback at the time, The Trentonian previously reported last September.
Schirmer, a huge supporter of President Donald Trump, suggested Aubrey Mollinedo should be terminated from public employment due to the election fraud allegations and website incident.
“Why is Aubrey still employed and now granted permission to work from home?” asked Schirmer, a former Hamilton Township councilwoman. “Why is Sam Frisby not being called out for his part in attempting to commit election fraud? These actions have compromised the integrity of the Mercer County Clerk’s office and the Office of Superintendent of Elections.”
County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello, a Democrat, said she has zero tolerance for voter fraud.
“It should be taken seriously — if true — and investigated,” Sollami Covello said of the allegations against Frisby and Aubrey Mollinedo. “If true, it is a serious matter. Obviously I wouldn’t condone anything like that. Election fraud will not be tolerated.”
Cathy DiCostanzo, the Mercer County superintendent of elections, said Aubrey Mollinedo is not an employee of her office.
“She is in fact employed by the Mercer County Board of Elections office,” DiCostanzo said via email last week, referring to Aubrey Mollinedo. “Ms. Schirmer is aware of this fact and also of the fact that I do not have any jurisdiction over the Board of Elections office and their employees. The Board of Elections office is run by four commissioners appointed by the two political parties.”
Anthony Francioso, Republican chair of the Mercer County Board of Elections, and Democratic election board secretary Mary Corrigan both failed to respond to an email requesting comment for this story.
Two former prosecutors told The Trentonian they believed it was unlikely that Frisby and Aubrey Mollinedo would be charged with crimes unless evidence is uncovered that both knew Luis Mollinedo’s ballot was ineligible to be counted and submitted it anyway with the intent to commit voter fraud.
“That turns entirely on a state of mind,” said Jerome Ballarotto, a former federal prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. Yet, he added, that Frisby’s explanation sounded “reasonable.”
“If I were the prosecutor, I wouldn’t charge them unless they knew” what they were doing was illegal, he said.
Robert Bianchi, a criminal defense attorney and the former Morris County prosecutor, said investigators must assess whether they believe Frisby or Aubrey Mollinedo had a “nefarious” purpose in submitting the dead man’s ballot.
Any charging decision must be made free of political bias, he added.
“You need to use the rule of reason when you’re making decisions to prosecute or not to prosecute,” he said. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse. There’s no question. However, if the intent was to do something [illegal] as opposed to a mistake, that’s the game changer to me.”
Formerly known as a freeholder, Frisby has been a county commissioner since February 2011. He may run for re-election this year to another three-year term.
The former Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders effective Jan. 1 has been renamed the Mercer County Board of County Commissioners due to a new state law. Politicians like Frisby said the “freeholder” title was an offensive term of privilege.