The names of two candidates will appear on the ballot in the state Senate’s 19th District, but neither of them will be Eric Bodenweiser.
Bodenweiser, who defeated incumbent Republican Joe Booth in the Sept. 11 primary, officially withdrew from the contest Oct. 17, just five days before being charged with sexually abusing a boy between 1987 and 1990.
The 53-year-old has since been released on a $250,000 secured bond and has been ordered to wear a GPS monitoring device at least until a Nov. 19 hearing date.
Despite his decision to withdraw from the race, Bodenweiser’s name was slated to remain on the ballot, along with Democratic candidate and former Georgetown town councilwoman Jane Hovington.
That prompted the state and Sussex County Republican committees to petition the Delaware Department of Elections to have Bodenweiser’s name replaced by that of former Georgetown mayor Brian Pettyjohn, a Republican who filed to run as a write-in candidate on Oct. 1.
State law allows political parties to replace the names of candidates on the ballot after the filing deadline in the event a “duly nominated candidate” is unable to serve due to death, physical, mental or other capacity.”
However, Delaware Elections Commissioner Elaine Manlove denied the GOP’s request last week, arguing that he could have legally served in the state senate, pending the outcome of his criminal trial.
Chancery Court Chancellor Leo Strine Jr. reversed that decision on Oct. 26 and ordered the state department of election to place Pettyjohn on the ballot. An appeal of that decision by the Delaware Democratic Party and the department of elections was denied Tuesday by Delaware Supreme Court Justice Myron Steele.
“I’m very pleased with the court’s decision and think it’s definitely an advantage for us,” Pettyjohn said Wednesday. “Now we can focus on getting out my message about how I will serve the 19th District, without having to say, ‘Oh, by the way, this is how you write in my name on the ballot.’ ”
State Democratic Party Chairman John Daniello said in a written statement that he wished the decision had gone the other way, because it now requires Hovington to face “an eleventh hour ballot candidate with only seven days until the election.”
State GOP Chairman John Sigler, meanwhile, released a statement saying the court’s decision had prevented thousands of Sussex County voters from being disenfranchised.
“On behalf of all Delaware citizens who believe that our elections should be free and fair, I thank the Judiciary,” he said.
Sussex County elections department chairman Kenneth McDowell said Wednesday that elections workers scrambled to meet the court’s order.
Page 2 of 2 - “We had 14 of our people working here Tuesday to send out a new round of absentee ballots to the voters in the 19th District,” he said Wednesday. “Thank goodness the Georgetown Post Office was open yesterday and we were able to get all 1,040 ballots in the mail.”
McDowell said it’s the third time the department has mailed out ballots to those voters. The first round included Bodenweiser and Hovington, while the second round included those candidates, as well as Pettyjohn’s name as an official write-in candidate.
“This time we included a letter explaining the court order and telling them that they had until 8 p.m. on Nov. 6 to get their ballots back to us if they wanted to make a change,” he said. “If they don’t make any changes, the ballots we received back will be counted as is.”
McDowell said votes for Bodenweiser would not be counted. It was not immediately clear, however, if write-in votes for Pettyjohn would be counted.
“This has all happened pretty fast and there are a lot of questions I won’t know the answer to until later today or tomorrow,” he said. “Honestly, I’ve been doing this since 1991 and this is the first time I’ve ever experienced anything like this.”