COURT HOUSE – In mid-October, the Herald pointed to a series of ballot contests as ones to watch Nov. 3.
Two state ballot questions concerning recreational marijuana legalization and timing for state redistricting based on 2020 census data were identified.
Also singled out was the 2nd District race for the U.S. House of Representatives that grabbed national attention, as well as two municipal elections where the incumbents were engaged in heated battles as they sought reelection.
Voters approved the legalization of marijuana by a margin of 2-to-1. In Cape May County, two-thirds of the voters supported the measure.
Don’t light up yet was the warning from Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, as legislation is needed to set up the regulated sale of the drug. Selling it on the street corner is, and will remain, illegal. Yet, there are other issues to be considered, as well.
Many advocates for the legalization of recreational marijuana were motivated by issues they argued involved racial justice rather than a desire for a legal high.
These advocates are raising issues for which there is likely to be strong differences of opinion. Those issues involve criminal record expungement and prioritization of retail licenses to areas of the state and populations they say were disproportionately impacted by criminalization.
The issue of how tax revenues from the sale of marijuana will be allocated is also a major area of disagreement.
The state question on redistricting passed in the state with 57% of the vote, but it was a winner in the county by a much narrower margin, 52% yes to 48% no votes.
The impact of that vote will not be entirely clear until Feb. 15. That is the date by which census data must be provided to the state. If the census data is late, the constitutional amendment approved by the voters would delay the redistricting process for two years, leaving the old maps in place.
Federal law specifies that the U. S. Census Bureau must provide data to the states by April 1 of the year after a census is taken. New Jersey’s predicament is the June 2021 primary elections for state legislative seats.
What happened in the past? Following the 2000 census, data was given to New Jersey in early March. In 2011, after the 2010 census, the data was received by the state in early February. What will happen this year remains to be seen.
The 2nd Congressional District race, in which incumbent Republican Jeff Van Drew was defending his seat against Democrat Amy Kennedy, saw a less dramatic finish than some polls predicted.
In the county, Van Drew won 60% of the vote. Overall, Van Drew won with 52% of the vote in a race many followed because of Van Drew’s party switch during the impeachment vote on President Donald Trump. Those looking for Democratic revenge for the change of party would not find it in the election results.
The municipal race in Cape May was somewhat of a shock. The surprise came not in the victory of Zack Mullock over incumbent Mayor Clarence “Chuck” Lear but the margin of the win. Mullock received 61% of the vote, very much reflecting the landslide victory Lear enjoyed in 2016 over then incumbent Edward Mahaney.
The race began with a court case over the design of the ballot which placed Lear and Deputy Mayor Patricia Hendricks together in a way that ignored the placement of candidates that was supposed to take place based on a random drawing conducted by the City Clerk Erin Burke.
The design of the ballot was allowed to stand, but it was not to be of help to the incumbents. Hendricks also lost her bid for reelection to political newcomer Christopher Bezaire.
The race was one in which Lear and Hendricks raised more in campaign contributions than anyone remembered being raised for a city municipal election, over $55,000. For some, the size of the contributions, especially those from outside the city, became an election issue.
Mullock said he did not think he would win the election. Mullock and Councilwoman Stacy Sheehan often found themselves on the losing side of 3-to-2 votes on the council for much of the last year. That could change, as Bezaire joins them on the governing body.
One of the first tasks facing the new council will be the need to appoint someone to the seat that Mullock will vacate as he moves to the mayor’s chair. That person will serve until the next general election, in November 2021, when a candidate will be elected to finish Mullock’s term.
In West Wildwood, the race appears to be over, with three incumbent commissioners being unseated. Yet, as is true in other areas of this year’s election, the incumbents turned to the courts to force a recount.
Together, challengers John Banning, Matthew Ksiazek, and Joseph Segrest defeated the incumbents with a combined 55% of the total vote. Individually, they won their seats by a range of 33 to 38 votes in a borough that saw 361 votes casted.
What appears to be a convincing victory was not seen as such by the incumbents, Christopher Fox, Amy Korobellis, and Scott Golden. They asked the courts to order a recount.
Korobellis joined with Debbie Fox, Christopher Fox’s wife, to challenge the voter registrations of 80 of the 438 registered voters in the borough. Most of the registrations were upheld.
Fox faces ethics charges that cost him his position as administrator in Wildwood. Fox was fined $25,000 by the state and is appealing the decision.
Fox was at the center of a controversy involving the settlement of litigation brought by the borough’s Police Chief Jacquelyn Ferentz, which cost taxpayers $1.7 million.
A decision on the recount is expected from Judge Julio Mendez Nov. 24. This race is still one to watch.
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