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Atlantic County Commissioner John Risley. (Photo: Nikita Biryukov for the New Jersey Globe)

Two Atlantic County commissioners sworn in, but third district seat stays vacant

Judge vacated election to replace former Freeholder Ashley Bennett

By Nikita Biryukov, January 05 2021 4:43 pm

Two Atlantic County commissioners were sworn into another term Tuesday, but a third seat remains vacant amid an election contest spurred by County Clerk Edward McGettigan’s sending incorrect ballots to more than 500 voters.

Thelma Witherspoon, who defeated Republican Andrew Parker by 286 votes for former Freeholder Ashley Bennett’s seat in November, was not sworn in in accordance with an order from Superior Court Judge Joseph Marczyk.

Marczyk declared the seat vacant because McGettigan mailed incorrect ballots to 544 voters, ruling the true result of the election was unknowable. Democrats intend to appeal the decision, and they may seek to hold a special convention to fill the seat until a special election can be held. Such an election won’t come until April 20, at the earliest.

The judge’s order doesn’t block Witherspoon from temporarily holding the seat.

Republican at-large County Commissioner John Risley was sworn in by State Sen. Chris Brown (R-Ventnor City).

“We all know how lucky we are to have John Risley as our representative,” Brown said.

Democratic at-large County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick was sworn in by Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver.

As commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, Oliver oversees the state’s presence in Atlantic City.

Commissioner Maureen Kern was unanimously elected to another term as board chairwoman.

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