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Sussex political parties 'bury the hatchet' with presidential race still undecided

Sussex County party leaders have buried the hatchet despite the looming, undecided presidential race. 

About 200 people gathered to watch the Reading of the Returns and the Burying of the Hatchet on The Circle on Thursday, Nov. 5. The two traditions were held in lieu of Return Day, the over 100-year-old Sussex County tradition that was canceled due to COVID restrictions.  

It's the first time the celebration, with its hallmark parade, has been called off since World War II. Sen. Brian Pettyjohn and Rep. Ruth Briggs King, both R-Georgetown, and Georgetown Mayor Bill West organized the event after constituents lamented the loss of the beloved Return Day. 

Background: Despite Return Day cancellation, two key traditions will still take place in Georgetown

Sussex County Sheriff Robert Lee read the returns, which are the numbers of votes each candidate received — in Sussex County alone. 

Sussex County  is the only county in Delaware with more registered Republican voters than Democrat, according to Department of Elections data. 

Had Sussex County voters decided the election, President Donald Trump would have beaten Delaware’s Joe Biden by about 14,500 votes. Lauren Witzke and Lee Murray would be representing Delaware in the U.S. Senate and House. Sussex’s own Julianne Murray would be governor. 

Sheriff Lee’s reading was punctuated by whoops after every Republican candidate’s numbers were announced. There were shouts of “Trump 2020” throughout the event. 

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The only Democratic Party leader president was Sussex County chair Jane Hovington, who did her part in helping to burying the hatchet, along with other Sussex party chairmen.  

“It’s symbolic of us closing out the election season, especially in 2020, as crazy as it was, as absolutely nasty as it was in a lot of places,” Pettyjohn said. “I think it’s important that we realize it’s over and do the jobs we were elected to do.” 

While Delaware’s legislative leaders may be getting back to business, the GOP leaders are still very much in election season.

“I think there are sufficient questions in place right now to require recounts and validations," said Sussex GOP Chairman Don Petitmermet. "When the dust settles, I think Trump will be elected to a second term.” 

A group of former U.S. attorneys who were appointed by Republican presidents criticized President Donald Trump for prematurely declaring victory while votes are still being counted and called his claims of voter fraud "premature, baseless, and reckless" in a Thursday statement. 

As of Nov. 5, votes continued to be counted in several states. Biden led with 264 electoral college votes to Trump’s 214, but Trump’s campaign is requesting a recount in Wisconsin and has filed lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia. Michigan has already dismissed the suit.

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“I am confident that, through the legal process, the evidence will reveal itself. I’m very confident that President Trump is going to be reelected,” said Rob Arlett. The former Sussex County Councilman is the Trump campaign’s Delaware state chairman. 

Will the opposing parties be able to remain peaceful when it’s all said and done? 

“In Sussex,” Pettyjohn said, “I don’t think we’re going to have a problem.” 

USA TODAY Reporter Kristine Phillips contributed to this report.