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Balles calls on Fernandez to concede loss in 2020 before running in 2021
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Balles calls on Fernandez to concede loss in 2020 before running in 2021

Celeste Fernandez and Frank X. Balles

Celeste Fernandez and Frank X. Balles

Chief Warrant Officer Christine Czaja, 48, of Ocean View, had recently returned to Texas from serving overseas in Iraq since June 2020 with the New Jersey Army National Guard and devised a plan to surprise her daughters, Skylar and Riley.

Republican at-large Atlantic County Commissioner Frank X. Balles on Tuesday called for his Democratic opponent, Celeste Fernandez, to concede her loss in the 2020 election before running again in 2021.

Fernandez hit back, saying the Republicans aren’t used to sharing power with someone from the Latino community.

“They see us as a community that has no rights,” Fernandez said. “I have the right to run, and to ask for a recount because of how close the election was.”

Fernandez, a businesswoman from Egg Harbor Township, lost by just 381 votes to incumbent John Risley in the 2020 election for at-large county commissioner. With about 132,400 votes cast in the freeholder race, that’s a difference of about 0.3%

She was successful in getting a judge to order a recount of a sample of 4% of ballots on top of the 2% required to be audited by the state.

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That recount of about 8,600 votes only found one extra vote for Fernandez, and a judge denied her request for a full recount. She is appealing that decision and has not conceded to Risley, who has been sworn in to a new term on the board.

Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Michael Suleiman said Tuesday that Fernandez is only asking for the same thing the state GOP’s Election Improvement Committee said earlier this month it wants to see as part of election reform — an automatic recount mechanism if an election is within 0.5%.

“All we are asking for is an actual real recount,” Suleiman said. “An expanded audit is not the same thing as a recount.”

If a full recount found Fernandez won, she would take Risley’s seat and the Democrats would put someone else up for county commissioner this year, Suleiman said.

Republicans don’t agree, saying Fernandez has needlessly cost county taxpayers $20,000 for the expanded audit, and a full recount could cost $100,000.

“Celeste Fernandez can’t have this both ways — she needs to either immediately withdraw her challenge to the election last year or drop out of the 2021 campaign,” said Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis in the Balles news release.

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post: 609-272-7219

Twitter @MichelleBPost

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Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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