A likely Republican pickup of a Democratic borough council seat in blue-leaning Maywood on Tuesday was the first of three winter do-over partisan elections that could offer a small glimpse of what New Jersey might look like in November 2022.
The Maywood race was rerun after the November 2021 vote between Democratic Councilwoman Katherine Bennin and Republican school board member Danyel Cicarelli ended in a tie. Now it looks like Cicarelli has flipped a council seat, leading by 51 votes – down from 63 last night, in what is now a six-point lead.
Two other municipalities will hold March elections to settle older campaigns that were previously undecided.
Voters in South Toms River will go to the polls on March 15 to decide the fate of a November 2020 race that ended in a tie. Extended court battles and an appellate court that seemed to be in no apparent hurry led to this seat being unfilled for more than a year.
On March 22, Old Bridge will hold a new election for a Ward 4 township council seat. Superior Court Judge Thomas Daniel McCloskey invalidated the results of the November 2021 election, where Democrat Jill DeCaro unseated GOP incumbent Mark Razzoli by 11 votes after ruling that at least 27 voters who live on Cymbeline Drive received the wrong ballot after election officials entered the wrong wards into the Statewide Voter Registration System.
Turnout models are hardly identical in the winter partisan elections in Maywood, South Toms River and Old Bridge. In Maywood, turnout was about 15%; 43% of voters cast their ballots in the 2021 election.
Shifts in the political environment from one Election Day to the next clearly affect election results.
A November 2020 race for Atlantic County Commission in District 3 gave Democrat Thelma Witherspoon a 286-vote win, but Superior Court Judge Joseph Marczyk invalidated the election because the county clerk had mailed the wrong ballots to more than 500 voters. He ordered a new election and the seat sat vacant for 11 months.
By November 2021, when GOP gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli carried Atlantic County and Republicans swept races for State Senate and Assembly, Republican Andrew Parker defeated Witherspoon by 2,137 votes.
Razzoli, a retired Jersey City police detective, originally won the Ward 4 council seat as a Democrat. He switched parties after losing a Democratic mayoral primary in 2019 and then challenged Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) in 2020. DeCaro is a member of the Old Bridge Board of Education.
The original contest, between Democrat George Rutzler and incumbent Republican Sandford Ross, resulted in a tie, with both candidates receiving exactly 722 votes. After a Democratic challenge successfully tossed two vote-by-mail ballots that had been filled out incorrectly, Rutzler took the lead and was sworn into office.
But in April, after Rutzler had served for four months, Superior Court Judge Arnold Goldman ordered that Rutzler be removed and a special election rematch between Rutzler and Ross be held in June. That special election was then canceled after the office of the attorney general appealed, even though some votes had already been cast.
Finally, in December, a state appellate court ruling put the special election back on.
In the 2021 general election, Republicans swept both borough council seats in South Toms River by wide margins.