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Jerry Burmeister in 1947. (Photo: Columbia High School).

The time the Burmeister twins ran against each other for Congress and one died

N.J. Secretary of State demanded a death certificate before removing Jerry Burmeister from the ballot

By David Wildstein, March 22 2022 12:36 pm

Jack Hastings Burmeister and Jerry Charles Burmeister, twin brothers from Ocean Grove, each filed nominating petitions in 1974 as independent candidates for Congress in New Jersey’s 3rd district.

They were challenging Rep. James Howard (D-Spring Lake Heights), who was at the time a five-term incumbent.

The 44-year-old Burmeister twins lived at the same address – 36 Embury Avenue – filed under different slogans.  Jack was the “Creativity-Science-Progress” candidate, while Jerry ran under the “Integrity-Honesty-Representation” banner.

In those days, the filing deadline for independent candidates was in April, the same as those competing in Democratic and Republican primaries.

Over the summer, a third independent candidate, Joseph Rogers, a Long Branch man who was running as the “Anti-Monopoly” candidate, filed a challenge with the New Jersey Secretary of State alleging that Jerry Burmeister had died and that Jack had moved from Ocean Grove to Maplewood.

The director of the Division of Elections, George Bloom, initially rejected the challenge.  He wasn’t going to remove a name from the ballot based on an affidavit from the Burmeister landlords.  He demanded a death certificate.

But Rogers couldn’t find one.  And the twins, who were recluses – except when they needed signatures on their nominating petitions – and they didn’t have a telephone.

A death certificate was located in September – Jerry Burmeister had died on June 19 in South Orange – so Bloom removed him from the ballot.

The law in 1974 required the Secretary of State’s office to notify at least five of the people who signed the petition that their candidate had died and that a vacancy existed.  That triggered a reopening of the petition process, with the first person to file 100 signatures would get Jerry Burmeister’s spot on the ballot.

Tom Palven, a 28-year-old horticulture consultant form Howell, read about the vacancy in the newspaper and claimed Jerry Burmeister’s ballot position.

Jack Burmeister pulled out of the race before the ballots were printed.

Still, despite published reports of Jerry Burmeister’s death, the Home News and Tribune newspaper invited him to appear before their editorial board in October.  He was a no-show and did not get the endorsement.

As a Democrat, Howard had faced some tough races in his Monmouth County-based district, but not in 1974, the Watergate landslide year.  He defeated former Freehold Township Mayor Kenneth Clark by 60,047 votes, 69%-31%.  Rogers received 1,177 votes, and Palven got 717.

Palven ran again six years later, this time as the Libertarian candidate, and received 1,450 votes.

Jack Burmeister died in 1977.

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