The African American Heritage Museum

John Risley, Atlantic County freeholder, of Egg Harbor Township, wonders around the African American Heritage Museum in the Arts Garage during a gala to celebrate its 15 years of operation. Monday February 27, 2017. (Viviana Pernot / Staff Photographer)


MAYS LANDING — Although the general elections were held nearly a week ago, some races still are not settled.

On Monday, the Atlantic County Board of Elections will meet to count 787 provisional ballots that could flip the results of some local contests, including one in Hamilton Township and the freeholder-at-large race between John Risley and Thelma Witherspoon.

“Some of the races are so tight, there is absolutely a chance it could change the overall results,” said Lynn Caterson, chairwoman of the county elections board.

The race that will be watched closely is for the freeholder at-large seat. Currently, there are eight Republicans and one Democrat on the board, which is the legislative branch of county government. However, Democrats were able to pick up two seats in Tuesday’s election, when Caren Fitzpatrick finished as the top vote-getter in the race for two freeholder-at-large seats and Ashley Bennett defeated John Carman in the district representing Egg Harbor Township.

Risley, a Republican incumbent, finished with the most votes at the polls in the at-large race but fell behind Fitzpatrick after mail-in ballots were counted.

Witherspoon, a Democrat, and Republican Tony DiPietro finished as the third and fourth at the polls, respectively. But after counting the mail-in ballots, Witherspoon was behind Risley by only 285 votes.

If she is able to defeat Risley, the freeholder board will be comprised of five Republicans and four Democrats, a drastic change in the board’s makeup. The last time there was more than one Democrat on the board was in 2015, when Ernest Coursey and Colin Bell were both in office.

It could also change some of the board’s leadership, because Risley is the vice chairman under Chairman Frank Formica.

“I think this election just goes to show you that every vote counts,” Risley said. “It was a difficult year for Republicans. (Gov. Chris Christie) was a huge anchor around our necks.”

Risley said he would love to continue to serve on the freeholder board and work on getting several initiatives done, including countywide tax assessments.

“If I’m fortunate enough to be elected again, that’s great. If not, that’s politics,” he said.

Witherspoon said Democrats expected to have a very successful night Tuesday, but that didn’t stop her from being nervous leading up to it.

“You never know how the votes are going to go,” she said. “(The Democratic Party) is stronger than it was last year, but we’re not all the way there yet.”

Witherspoon said that if she is elected after the provisional ballots are counted, she will seek to work together with Republicans to help the county’s economy grow.

“Everyone wants to see the county do well, have tax relief and maintain services,” she said. “It seems everyone had a consensus with that during the debates, and I was really encouraged by that.”

The race for Hamilton Township Committee may also flip, depending on the provisional ballots. Republican John Kurtz led Democrat Dwight Melton by just 40 votes after all the ballots at the polls were counted.

A provisional ballot is used when there are questions about a voter’s eligibility, including when the person does not show up on the voter rolls at the polling place.

In New Jersey, you must fill out a provisional ballot if you are a registered voter in the county who moved and did not notify the county commissioner of registration before Election Day or if your registration is not complete in the poll book.

Caterson said not all 787 provisional ballots may be valid, so the final number of votes could be lower once they are done counting.

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Contact: 609-272-7260

Twitter @ACPressDeRosier

I joined The Press in January 2016 after graduating from Penn State in December 2015. I was the sports editor for The Daily Collegian on campus which covered all 31 varsity sports and several club sports.

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