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Former South Toms River Councilman Sandy Ross. (Photo: Sandford Ross, Jr.)

Republicans win special election in South Toms River

Ross wins 64% in do-over of November 2020 contest that ended in a tie

By David Wildstein, March 15 2022 9:08 pm

Republican Sandford Ross won a do-over election for South Toms River Borough Council on Tuesday, defeating Democrat George Rutzler and officially ending the 2020 cycle.  A judge ordered a new election after Ross and Rutzler ended the November 2020 elected tied at 772 votes each.

Ross leads Rutzler, 250 to 142, a 64%-36% margin.

This is the second win for Republicans in 2022.  The GOP won a February 15 special election in Maywood; the November 2021 election had ended in a tie.    The last of the do-over elections comes next week in Old Bridge, where a judge invalidated the 2021 election results after finding that election mailed the wrong ballots to some voters.

Turnout in South Toms River is at 15.85%.

Election officials hope to certify the results of today’s election by March 23 after provisional ballots and late-arriving mail-in ballots are counted.  There are also some ballot cure letters still outstanding.

An extended court battle and some appellate court judges who moved like turtles wearing robes had caused the council seat to be vacant for more than a year.

Ross led the vote-by-mail ballots by two votes, 49 to 47.  About 206 VBM ballots were issued, with around 47% returned.  Ross won all three voting districts in South Toms River.

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.

But appellate court judges inexplicably dragged their feet, eliminating the possibility that the new election could have been held concurrently with the 2021 general.  That led to a special election tomorrow that will cost taxpayers an estimated $80,000.

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.

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