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Atlantic County District 3 Freeholder candidates Thelma Witherspoon and Andrew Parker.

Four South Jersey counties still have freeholder races that are too close to call

Winners in Atlantic, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem still undetermined

By David Wildstein, November 08 2020 4:44 pm

Four counties – Atlantic, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem — still have races for freeholder that are too close to call.

In Atlantic, incumbents from both parties are clinging to narrow leads in the race for two at-large seats on the Board of Freeholders.

There are no less than 9,383 provisional ballots that remain uncounted, and ballots postmarked by November 3 still have until Tuesday to be delivered to the Board of Elections by the U.S. Postal Service.

Republican John W. Risley has 63,223 votes, followed by Democrat Caren Fitzpatrick at 63,087.  The difference between Risley and Fitzpatrick is 136.

Fitzpatrick’s running mate, Celeste Fernandez has 61,531 votes.  That puts her 1,692 votes behind Risley and 1,556 behind her running mate, Fitzpatrick.

The other Republican candidate, James Toto, is very much in the mix.

Toto is at 61,442 votes and trails Fitzpatrick by 1,645.  He is 1,781 votes behind is running mate, Risley.

In the race for District 3 freeholder, where a massive snafu by County Clerk Ed McGettigan led to 554 voters in Hamilton Township not receiving the correct ballot, the two candidates are just 16 votes apart.

Democrat Thelma Witherspoon leads Republican Andrew Parker, 14,045 to 14,029 for the open seat being vacated by retiring Freeholder Ashley Bennett, a Democrat.

Provisional ballots are expected to be counted on Wednesday and the results will almost certainly spark a legal battle from the losing side.

GOP County Chairman Keith Davis has already called on McGettigan to resign and Republican Hammonton Councilman Joe Giralo entered the race to challenge McGettigan on Wednesday.

South Jersey’s #1 radio personality, Harry Hurley, said last week that the courts have no choice but to invalidate last week’s election and run a do-over.

“It isn’t just the specific number of voters that were disenfranchised. This affected other voters indirectly. And, by indirectly, I don’t mean insignificant,” Hurley said. “Hundreds of voters were denied seeing this race on their ballot. They may have encouraged others that they know to vote, etc., along with other legitimate scenarios.

If that happens, the Democratic County Committee in Atlantic’s 3rd freeholder district, would get to name an interim freeholder to serve until the results of the new election are certified.

Bennett could stay on, or Democrats could put Witherspoon on the freeholder board – which by then would be called the Atlantic County Board of Commissioners – and allow her to run as an incumbent.

Republicans currently have a 6-3 majority on the Board of Freeholders.  This could increase to 7-2, or go down to 5-4.

In New Jersey, when the court requires a special election, the party who previously held the seat gets to keep it.

Two other countywide races are over, with Democratic Sheriff Eric Scheffler and Republican Surrogate James Curcio amassing strong enough leads to almost assure their re-election.

Scheffler is running 10,691 votes ahead of Republican Joseph “Tokyo” O’Donoghue.  Curcio in in front of Democrat Stephen Dicht by 5,909 votes.

“Unfortunately, the numbers have gone in the wrong direction and the lead my opponent had has grown. The writing is on the wall and I must accept that my campaign has fallen short,” Dicht said in an elegant concession statement.  “I am disappointed, but I’m fine.”

CUMBERLAND COUNTY

The race for Cumberland County freeholder has tightened after new votes released on Saturday night show Republicans gaining.

About 8,000 vote-by-mail ballots and around 4,000 provisional ballots still uncounted.

Republican Victoria Lods now trails Democrat Donna Pearson by 2,497 votes, with about 8,000 vote-by-mail ballots and around 4,000 provisional ballots still uncounted.  Lods has been gaining on each count.

Incumbent Democrat Carol Musso (24,532) is the top vote-getter, followed by another incumbent, George Musso (24,510). Pearson, who ran off the line in the Democratic primary, is running third with 24,240 votes.

Lods, a former aide to State Sen. Nicholas Asselta (R-Vineland), is at 21,743 votes, followed by GOP running mates Darwin Cooper (20,816) and Antonio Romero (21,308).

The third incumbent, Jack Surrency, failed to win organization support in the Democratic primary.  He ran on another line with Pearson, but finished sixth.

While 2020 was technically a control election, Republicans would need to sweep all three seats to take a 4-2 majority of the Cumberland freeholder board.

In the race for Sheriff, Democratic incumbent Robert Austino leads Republican Michael Donato by 3,943 votes 54%-46%.

GLOUCESTER COUNTY

The race for Gloucester County Freeholder tightened on Thursday after more vote-by-mail ballots were counted, giving Republicans an outside shot at picking up seats on the all-Democratic board for the first time since 2009.

Incumbent Lyman Barnes leads Republican Nick DeSilvio by 2,610 votes, 82,488 to 79,878.

The other two incumbents, Heather Simmons (85,803) and Jim Jefferson (82,488), are running ahead of Barnes. Trailing are Republicans Chris Konawel (78,839) and Greenwich Mayor George Shivery, Jr. (77,546).

Gloucester counted 21,405 ballots since the first results were announced on Tuesday evening.

The New Jersey Globe has learned that the Gloucester County Board of Elections is essentially caught up on counting VBM ballots, and has between 4,000 to 5,000 provisional ballots that will be counted on November 11.

It’s not clear how many mail-in ballots postmarked on or before Election Day will arrive prior to the November 10 cutoff.

SALEM COUNTY

A Democratic freeholder in Salem County is now behind after 2,413 vote-by-mail ballots were counted on Thursday in a race that is still too close to call.

Freeholder Charles Hassler now trails Republican Edward Ramsey by 198 votes.  He had a 385-vote lead on election night.

Republicans have a 3-2 majority on the Salem freeholder board.  Ramsey would increase their majority to 4-1.

The 2021 election, when Senate President Steve Sweeney is on the ballot, would still give Democrats a chance to reclaim their majority.  The two freeholders up for re-election next year, Ben Laury and Mickey Ostrum, are Republicans.

Democrats are still ahead in a close race for Surrogate.

Incumbent Nicki A. Burke is running 1,137 votes ahead of her GOP challenger, Beth McCarthy Patrick.  She had been 1,594 votes in front on Tuesday evening.

Salem still has no less than 5,106 ballots still uncounted – 3,361 vote-by-mail ballots and 1,745 provisionals.

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