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Judge to order runoff election in South Toms River

Election contest leaves candidates tied for second place

By Nikita Biryukov, May 04 2021 11:28 am

An Ocean County Superior Court Judge will order a new election be held for a South Toms River council seat set to be vacated later Tuesday.

Judge Arnold Goldman’s order, due later Tuesday or early Wednesday, will vacate the council seat held by Democrat George Rutzler and set up a rematch with former South Toms River Councilman Sanford Ross on June 29.

Rutzler and Ross tied for the second of two council seats up for a vote in November, each securing 772 votes in an extraordinarily narrow race where just 10 ballots separated first and last place.

The Democrat was allowed to take the seat after a recount subtracted two votes from Ross’s total, but an election challenge left the candidates tied once more after a provisional ballot not included in the initial count was opened and tallied on Monday.

Dominic Giova, a deputy attorney general representing the Ocean County Board of Elections, said his reading of election law suggested the vacancy should be handled like any other municipal vacancy, with local party organizations selecting candidates.

Giova acknowledged the board had a limited interest in the race and said he was only providing his view of state law.

Goldman said running the race under the Municipal Vacancy Law would create unnecessary delays and unreasonably burden Rutzler and Ross, who have borne the cost of court proceedings related to the recount and election contest for roughly six months.

“It’s a runoff between the two candidates who are tied,” the judge said. “That’s the way it should be, and to do otherwise would be, I think, interpret the statute in a way that just doesn’t make sense here.

In an effort to save time and avoid voter confusion, the special election ballot will use the same column positions used in November. Ross will appear in column A, and Rutzler’s name will show in column B.

Mail-in ballots for the election will in some way be distinguished from primary election ballots set to be voted earlier in June, likely through a difference in size and some sort of marking on the outside.

Attorney Matthew Moench argued on behalf of the Republican, while Brian White represented Rutzler. Laura Benson spoke for the Ocean County Clerk’s Office.

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