Celeste Fernandez Gets Recount in Atlantic County Freeholder Race; Wants Every Vote Counted


Celeste Fernandez. Photo courtesy of Fernandez for Freeholder Facebook.

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 — Atlantic County Freeholder candidate Celeste Fernandez says she wants to reassure voters that “no stone would go unturned” in making sure voters are counted in asking for a recount in her tight November race.

Fernandez will get her wish for a recount in the razor-thin November race where she came in 381 votes away from capturing an at-large seat on the county board.

County Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez said he would rule Monday (Dec. 7) on how that recount would proceed, but commented last week he would not likely order a hand recount of every ballot, according to the Press of Atlantic City. He noted more than 143,000 mostly paper ballots cast countywide Nov. 3, which would “overwhelm” the board of elections.

In the at-large race with two Democrats and two Republicans, incumbent Democrat Caren Fitzpatrick won 67,600 votes for one of two seats. Republican John Risley with 66,427, Fernandez with 66,046 and Somers Point Councilman James Toto with 64,566.

Mendez pointed out the difference of 381 votes is less than one-third of 1% of the total votes cast in the race.

“The recount is needed due to the closeness of the race,” Fernandez told Front Runner New Jersey/La Prensa this week. “I want to reassure our voters in Atlantic County that we will protect their rights, that no stone will be unturned. Having an unprecedented amount of votes submitted by mail for the first time could and would bring about challenges.

“The same with many other procedures that are implemented for the first time, it needs to be verified. We also need to take the necessary steps to bring transparency and to make sure the process is working correctly and accurately,” she added. 

It is the second time in three years that Fernandez, who is trying to become the first Latina ever to sit on the Atlantic County freeholder board, to be involved in a tight election. She came within a percentage point of unseating Republican incumbent Frank Formica for a freeholder seat in 2018.

“It has been very stressful, especially trying to get things done in the middle of the pandemic,” Fernandez, a Pleasantville businessman and single mother, said of the recount. “I am thankful for our voter’s support and patience during this process.”

Fernandez said she has counted on her “family, friends and prayer warriors” to get her through the mental challenges of the election and recount.

“I constantly receive messages with words of encouragement from our beautiful people of Atlantic County,” Fernandez said.

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