Today is election day for mayors and councilpersons in different parts of New Jersey. Before going to the polls read up on the positions of these individuals lest you end up ruing the results. A mayor and council have outsized impact on you as they determine the local factors that help or harm the area where you spend so much of your time.
Unfortunately, these elections get less attention and attendance than those higher up the ballot line. Candidates typically have less funding to spread their message, resorting instead to limited canvassing, inexpensive yard signs, maybe one brochure, and a last-minute robocall As a result there are unintended consequences.
Non-partisan elections, which have several advantages, nonetheless, can suffer the most. In a partisan election there are clearer distinctions with candidates listed on the ballot as Republican, Democrat, or Independent in which case uninformed people can just vote for the candidate of their preferred party. Such is not the case in non-partisan elections.
In Teaneck’s non-partisan election today, for example, there are seven candidates running for four council seats. In addition to other tasks, it is council members who elect the mayor. Voters who have not informed themselves about the candidates’ positions, and see only a vague slogan on the ballot listing seven individuals, don’t know whom to vote for. In some cases they may select an individual because they saw numerous yard signs touting him or her, without knowing, for example, that the person engages in “pay to play” situations or takes environmentally unfriendly positions that can only harm the municipality. In far more cases where there are higher level candidates on the ballot, voters skip over the municipal candidates because they know nothing about them.
These election actually matter. Some of the locations where they are taking place today include the larger cities of Paterson, Newark, and Trenton. There are 18 municipal elections today. As NJ.com points out, “All are non-partisan, and though there are several non-contested races in the mix, some of this year’s most high-profile elections will be decided long before the November shuffle.” Insidernj provides further information here.
The League of Women Voters’ has a daunting but important mission which we should heed: “Educate, Advocate, and Empower.” The bottom line is that these elections require some effort for voters to understand what is needed in their town or city, study the brochure; use Facebook, newspapers, websites, debates and similar sources to select whom you support. Get involved and advocate for the causes important to you. Become empowered. Then go to the polls.