A Superior Court judge has ordered a new election for the Atlantic County District 3 commissioner race because the county clerk sent incorrect ballots to 554 voters.

Democrat Thelma Witherspoon received 15,034 votes and was certified as the winner of the election over Republican Andrew Parker with 14,748, a margin of just 268 votes, according to the Atlantic County Clerk's Office.

Freeholders are now called commissioners as of Jan. 1. While most counties elect their commissioners at-large, Atlantic County elects five of them at-large and splits four more among equally populated voting districts.

Judge Joseph Marczyk on Jan. 4 revoked the certification of the election results, leaving a vacancy on the board until a new election can he held. An executive order by Gov. Phil Murphy postponed all elections until at least April 20.

"Given the number of voters disenfranchised by virtue of the defective ballots, the court concludes the integrity of the election was compromised and and petitioner (candidate Parkers) has met the statutory requirement for successfully contesting the results of the election," Marczyk concluded.

The decision hands local Republicans a victory at a time when national Republicans have been stymied in their efforts to overturn the election results and keep Donald Trump in the White House for another four years.

The Press of Atlantic City reported on Nov. 2 that the ballot mistake in Hamilton was found on Oct. 19. An emergency hearing was held one day before Election Day, during which Judge Julio Mendez ordered poll workers to offer provisional ballots to anyone affected by the error, according to the Press.

Assistant County Clerk Michael Sommers blamed the State Voter Registration System for generating the wrong ballots, according to the Press.

Most of the ballots in this year's election were returned by voters ahead of Election Day via the U.S. Mail or at special drop boxes because an executive order issued by Murphy, who wanted to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by limiting indoor and close gatherings.

Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Michael Sulieman promised to appeal the judge's ruling and said Witherspoon had won the election “fair and square.”

"We will not let the voters be disenfranchised, and let taxpayers spend up to $100,000 for a new election just because the Republicans are unhappy about the voters' choice," Sulieman said.

The Atlantic County Republicans, who filed the challenge, praised the ruling.

"Our only mission was to ensure we had a fair election and we have prevailed," the party said in a written statement.

President Donald Trump has claimed voter fraud because of the mail-in ballots used nationwide even though numerous local and federal authorities have found no widespread improprieties. Trump's legal teams have not presented any credible evidence in court and have lost dozens of court challenges, including before Trump-appointed judges and at the Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, Congress will meet in a joint session to certify the Electoral College votes, which gave Joe Biden the victory. South Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decision to oppose the certification, which up to now in the nation's history has been a mere formality, drew criticism from Murphy on Monday.

“It pains me in particular to see one of our own representatives, Congressman Jeff Van Drew, cynically siding with conspiracy theorists and throwing his fate in with the far-right's disproven and crackpot theories," Murphy said. "If that’s the legacy that Jeff wants, then I guess it is what it is."

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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