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It’s Election Day in New Jersey, again

By David Wildstein, March 15 2022 6:00 am

Norman Rockwell, Election Day, 1944. Photo: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.)

Good morning, New Jersey.

The polls are now open in South Toms River, where a do-over of a November 2020 general election for a seat on the borough council is being rerun 497 days later.

Extended court fights and slow-moving appellate court judges working from home during the pandemic caused the municipality to miss the chance to fill the vacant seat in a November 2021 special election, causing taxpayers to foot the $80,000 bill for a free-standing election today.

On Election Day 2020, Republican Councilman Sandford Ross and Democrat George Rutzler each received 772 votes.   Now the two will finally get the chance to face off in a new election.

Election officials are hoping to certify the election by March 23, after late vote-by-mail ballots arrive, provisional ballots are counted, and cure letters are returned.  Then the winner can be sworn in, with just 59% of the three-year term remaining.

After the 2020 election, 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 2021, 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.

Democrats have unfairly suggested that Goldman, a Republican, played partisan politics in his rulings.

Republicans have a 5-0 majority on the borough council.  South Toms River has a Democratic mayor, Gregory Handshy, who is up for re-election this year.  Handshy defeated Ross in 2018 by 96 votes in 2018.

In 2021, Republican Oscar Cradle defeated Democratic incumbent Robert Taylor by 204 votes, 502-298, to leave Democrats without any borough council seats.   Councilman Samuel Fennell, who had been elected as a Democrat in 2018, was re-elected as a Republican last year.

Joe Biden carried South Toms River by 80 votes in 2020.  South Toms River and Harvey Cedars were the only Ocean County municipalities that Donald Trump lost that year.  U.S. Senator Cory Booker won the borough by 120 votes, and Rep. Andy Kim carried it by 285 votes.

Rutzler loses those coattails – and the 2020 political environment – in tomorrow’s stand-alone do-over election.

Last year, Republican Jack Ciattarelli won South Toms River by 120 votes against Gov. Phil Murphy.  State Sen. Christopher Connors (R-Lacey) took the borough by 119 votes.

Polls are open in South Toms River from 6 AM to 8 PM on March 15.  Nineteen secure ballot drop boxes throughout Ocean County are also open, although none are in South Toms River.

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