WEST WILDWOOD - Two months after voters went to the polls, a judge has declared the borough's Dec. 7 recall election over.
"This election contest is concluded. The voting public has determined via the tie vote that McNamara is not recalled," Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong wrote in a decision issued Wednesday afternoon.
She continued, "No further ballots will be addressed by the court. The results as certified by Clerk (Jim) Nanos remain in full force and effect. Incumbents Frederick and McNamara retain their offices consistent with the provisions of the ‘Uniform Recall Election Law.'"
Mayor Herbert Frederick and Commissioner Gerard McNamara both appeared on the Dec. 7 recall ballot, but both managed to keep their seats following a close vote in which 74 percent of the small town's voters cast ballots.
In the certified results, which followed the opening of several ballots not initially counted, McNamara received 177 votes against his recall and 176 votes for it. Frederick received 178 votes against his recall and 173 votes for it.
Armstrong noted the closeness of the race and the town's significant interest in the election, in which 357 of 476 registered voters filled out ballots either in person or by mail.
"The voter turnout for this recall election was remarkable. The court recognizes, based upon the extraordinarily close results of this recall election, that likely 50 percent of the persons voting at this election will be disappointed with the outcome of this election contest. That observation notwithstanding, all of the voters of West Wildwood are to be commended for taking such a strong interest in their local government, and hopefully they will continue to do so," Armstrong wrote.
Former Mayor Christopher Fox, who had hoped to win back a seat on the commission, had challenged the initial results. On Tuesday, Fox's attorney, Mary D'Arcy Bittner, suggested the judge could require a run-off election, call for a new recall for McNamara or declare Fox the winner because he received more votes on the second half of the ballot.
Residents were able to vote for two people to fill the commission seats if the recall was successful. In that voting, Fox received 176 votes, Frederick received 174, McNamara received 172 and Cornelius Maxwell received 170.
The possibility of a tie existed if one of the votes believed to be cast against the recall was voided by the judge. A tie was also possible if another ballot, in which the voter voted for Fox and Maxwell, was considered to be in favor of the recalls. The voter in that case failed to vote yes or no on the recall questions.
Armstrong said the ballots would not be recounted because a voter was not required to vote on the recall question before choosing which candidate he or she wanted on the commission.
As for the question of a tie, Armstrong turned to state law, particularly state statute NJSA 19:27 A-16(a), which deals with elections.
"The above statutory provisions are clear that for an elected official to be recalled, there must be a majority of votes cast in the affirmative to recall the official. In other words, at least one more vote must be cast in favor of recall than against recall in order to terminate the elected official's term of office," Armstrong wrote.
Armstrong added that state law contains ways to settle ties in certain circumstances, and the legislature opted not to detail any such procedure for a recall.
"It is clear the legislature did not intend to prolong the outcome of a recall election. It specifically provided that an elected official will only be recalled if a majority of votes are cast in favor of the recall," Armstrong wrote.
Fox said that he "absolutely respected the judge's decision" and credited her handling of the case.
"People's votes should count, and the people that don't live here should not count," said Fox adding that he was the top vote-getter on the ballot and hoped that would force Frederick and McNamara to recognize change is needed.
"I hope they learned something from this," Fox said.
Borough Solicitor Paul Baldini said Wednesday that he welcomed the recall's end.
"As the solicitor of the borough, I'm pleased the recall is over and now we can focus on the business of the people," he said.
Baldini also noted the deep divisions in the community.
"I encourage all participants to try to work together," he said. "It's incumbent on both 50 percents to work together."
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