Shreekant Dhopte, recently elected to a township committee seat in rural Chesterfield, wants his political opponent to apologize for falsely claiming on social media that he owed his victory to illegal votes by immigrant Indian Americans.
Sam Davis, who in November lost his bid for a second three-year term by 117 votes, suggested in a Facebook post last week that Indian Americans in the Burlington County town are not citizens and that their votes for Dhopte should be investigated by the Prosecutor’s Office.
“He accused people without knowing for a fact that this happened, and then went on and threatened them, saying ‘I’m going to put up a case with the prosecutor and have them fined,’” said Dhopte, a Democrat and the first Asian American to sit on the five-member committee.
The Facebook post was racist and hateful, Dhopte said, and shocked him because the men had agreed before the campaign to remain civil and “stick to issues.”
But after the race was over, Dhopte said, Davis told him he might challenge the results.
Dhopte, 45, said that when he moved to New Jersey in 2008, he provided his naturalization papers as proof of citizenship when he registered to vote, and was told many other Asian Americans did the same thing. “We are first-generation immigrants, that is, most of us came to the U.S. for work and then got citizenship and settled here.... We are hard-working people, very aware of the law, and we would not break election laws and commit fraud. That’s just insane,” said Dhopte, an IT manager at Johnson & Johnson. He is married and has two children, including a son who attends Princeton University.
Dhopte said the town of 8,000 has about 4,000 registered voters, including about 300 Asian Americans. Most of them are Hindu, and they attend several different temples in New Jersey, depending on their family traditions and culture, he said. Last August, he said, he helped organize an Indian cultural festival and a mini-fun-fair in a township park, to which the public was invited.
“This community is very welcoming, and we get along,” Dhopte said. He said Davis' remarks give the town an unjustified image of intolerance.
Last week, Davis went public with his complaints about the election results in a Facebook post. He weighed in on a thread about immigrants and tipping at a restaurant in nearby Bordentown.
Davis, a Republican, wrote that he had closely lost his bid for reelection to “an Indian guy” in Chesterfield. He went on to say that he complained to the county prosecutor and said that all the Indians who voted for Dhopte could be fined $15,000 for voter fraud.
Davis, 64, said Tuesday that he “got emotional” as the discussions on Facebook heated up and he probably should have stayed in the background. “I’ve made up my mind that I’m not going to go onto social media again. It just doesn’t do any good. You get people who are different from my thinking, and they blow it out of proportion and take it wrong,” he said.
A retired science teacher at Trenton High School, Davis said he spends a lot of his time portraying Gen. George Washington, giving speeches in costume and participating in reenactments in Trenton, Princeton, Valley Forge Historical National Park, and other places. He also gives motivational lectures.
Davis said he cares deeply about America and is not yet ready to retract his accusations of voter fraud. “If the prosecutor finds I am totally wrong and these people are citizens, I will make a full apology to all the people in Chesterfield. But I don’t think I’m wrong,” he said. When asked what proof he had to make these claims, he said that “you just kind of know.”
The Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office did not respond to multiple calls seeking comment. But Burlington County Deputy Freeholder Director Balvir Singh said in an interview this week that the Prosecutor’s Office told him there was no merit to Davis’ allegations. Singh, a Democrat, called the remarks divisive and said he had faced similar race-baiting tactics when he ran for freeholder.
The South Asian Bar Association of New Jersey released a statement Tuesday condemning Davis’ remarks. “These xenophobic and patently false assertions that question the citizenship and patriotism of community members of South Asian background erode the fabric of our country and the democratic process.... We call for an apology from Mr. Davis and swift action from Burlington County to reiterate that Mr. Dhopte won the election fairly,” the association said.
Dhopte said that he would also like the county Republican Committee to denounce the remarks.
Sean Earlen, the president of the committee, has not responded to Dhopte’s request and did not respond to calls seeking comment.