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

Judge orders Atlantic Commissioner special election for November

By David Wildstein, July 13 2021 10:15 am

A Superior Court Judge today ordered a special election for Atlantic County Commissioner to be held concurrently with the general election on November 2, eschewing a bid by Republicans to hold a special election in late August or early September.

The 3rd district commissioner seat has been vacant since January after Judge Joseph Marczyk invalidated the November 2020 election that was botched by County Clerk Ed McGettigan, a Democrat.

Ed McGettigan goofed by mailing the incorrect ballots to 544 votes in a race where Democrat Thelma Witherspoon defeated Republican Andrew Parker by 286 votes.

Republicans viewed their best chance of winning their seat in an early election, while Democrats preferred the gubernatorial election year voter turnout model.

“The court’s goal is to interpret statutes consistent with the intent of the Legislature,” Marczyk said.  “When the language is clear and unambiguous and susceptible to only to one interpretation, the courts assume the legislature meant what it said … the court’s role is not to question legislative action, but to enforce them, so long as they are not contrary to constitutional principles.”

Marczyk had previously denied a bid by Democrats to temporarily fill the seat.  It had previously been held by Democrat Ashley Bennett, who did not seek re-election to a second term.

He also had ordered an April special election, which was cancelled as a result of Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order.

Parker’s name will now appear on the ballot twice, unless he drops his bid for re-election to the Egg Harbor Township Committee.  Regardless of the outcome, Parker may only occupy one office.

“Let me be clear: I beat Andrew Parker once, and I’m going to do it again,” said Witherspoon in a statement released after the ruling.  “I look forward to representing Hamilton and Egg Harbor Townships on the Board of County Commissioners.”

The county commissioner district includes Egg Harbor Township and part of Hamilton.

“While I am disappointed that the votes Atlantic County residents cast last year will be thrown out, I respect the judge’s decision to schedule a new election. I am happy to see us score a major victory in that the special election will be in the November general election,” Witherspoon said.  “This not only saves taxpayer dollars but it will ensure that voter participation will be as high as possible. My sincere thanks to my legal team of Rob Herman and Scott Salmon and special thanks to Chairman Michael Suleiman for his friendship and leadership.”

This story was updated at 10:28 AM with comment from Witherspoon.

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