Home>Articles>Could special election for Atlantic at-large seat become part of do-over process?

Could special election for Atlantic at-large seat become part of do-over process?

By David Wildstein, January 05 2021 1:49 pm

This will be up to those at higher pay grades to decide, but there could be an unintended consequence for Republicans who sought a court order to throw out the results of an Atlantic County Commissioner race and force a do-over election.

It’s possible that Commissioner Frank X. Balles, picked by Republicans last October following the unexpected resignation of Frank Formica, could be forced to run in the same special election that will feature a repeat of the District 3 contest between Democrat Thelma Witherspoon and Republican Andrew Parker.

Superior Court Judge Joseph Marczyk yesterday ordered the results of the November contest invalidated after County Clerk Ed McGettigan, a Democrat, bungled the contest by sending 554 voters the wrong ballots in a race Witherspoon won by just 276 votes.

The date of the District 3 special has not been set, but it could be held in April or May, depending on Gov. Phil Murphy’s decision when to hold spring elections.

Some read the statute governing special elections as requiring the vacancy to be filled at the next general election, not necessarily the next November election.  It could be argued that the court-imposed election is the next general election in Atlantic County.

Neither party is expecting a commissioner-at-large race this spring.   Balles is likely to run in November, when Formica’s seat would be up.

Like many election laws, it’s confusing.

Republicans avoided a November 2020 special election by Formica resigning one day after the deadline that would have tasked voters with choosing his replacement.

Last month, the freeholders hired Formica for a $40,000-a-year county job.

That move drew the wrath of WPG talk radio host Harry Hurley,

“There is a legitimate concern that this smacks of political cronyism,” Hurley said at the time, suggesting that Formica’s hiring “looks absolutely terrible in the eyes of an already weary public.”

Republicans have a 6-2 majority on the Board of Commissioners, with the District 3 seat now vacant as a result of Marczyk’s order.

Democrats are appealing the decision, but might also be positioned to appoint Witherspoon to the seat on an interim basis until the do-over election.

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