By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was produced as part of the 2020 Election Reporting Fellowship with NJ ethnic and community media organized by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University.
MAYS LANDING – The Atlantic County Clerk’s Office has certified Democrat Thelma Witherspoon the winner in the Freeholder District 3 race by a razor-thin margin, but Republican Andrew Parker III said he plans on contesting the election marred by a ballot mix-up.
It is one of two Atlantic County races being challenged. Celeste Fernandez lost to John Risley for the second and final at-large spot by 455 votes. She has asked for a recount.
The purple District 3 race made national headlines in 2017 in when Democrat Ashley Bennett unseated incumbent and Women’s March critic John Carman.
In this year’s race, Witherspoon, a minister former Atlantic City school board member, ran against Parker, an educator who made history in 2018 as the first Black to win a seat on the Egg Harbor Township Committee.
In the final tally, Witherspoon grabbed 50.4 percent of the vote, 15,019 to Parker’s 49.5 percent, 14,730, a difference of 289 votes.
“Now that all the votes have been counted, it appears that our campaign has been successful,” Witherspoon said in a statement last week. “I am thankful for the support of more than 15,000 voters in Egg Harbor Township and Hamilton Township along with the efforts of more volunteers than I can name as well as family and friends who provided invaluable support.”
The election, though came into question because of a mistake with ballots in Hamilton Township. According to the Press of Atlantic City, 335 ballots sent to township residents that did not include the District 3 race, and 219 residents outside of the district did receive the District 3 ballot, allowing them to weigh in erroneously.
Those 554 ballots are well within the margin of difference between Witherspoon and Parker.
“It is impossible for Thelma or I to declare victory at this point,” Parker said. “The election isn’t over; there are still voters deprived of their right to vote. I am going to fight for their right to do so, regardless of the outcome.”
Parker laid blame on Atlantic County Clerk Eric McGettigan, pointing out it was Witherspoon and county Democrats that first pointing out the ballot issue. He suggested in the Press of Atlantic City of going to court to force a special election because of the mistake.
“It’s disappointing that our county clerk couldn’t get this right,” Parker said. Thelma and the Democrats’ lawyer brought this issue to the courts before the election. Our stand has been consistent and clear from the beginning; we need to make sure no voter’s disenfranchisement occurs, and the election process was fair and accurate.”
Witherspoon argues, though, the mistake disadvantaged her campaign and not Parker. The Press of Atlantic City noted Parker grabbed a large lead among Egg Harbor Township voters, while Witherspoon scored a large lead with Hamilton Township voters.
“Obviously, the problems with the Statewide Voter Registration System created a difficult situation that resulted in a regrettable while understandable set of errors by the County Clerk’s Office where some voters in Hamilton Township that are in the District did not have the opportunity to vote while others outside the District did,” Witherspoon said.
“Considering that I did win in the Hamilton Township portion of the District by more than 1,100 votes, it is also obvious that these errors did not help me but instead cost me support. While I understand the current partisan push for a special election, the public interest would be better served if we moved forward.”
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