Featured image: Portion of a racist mailer sanctioned by the Mount Laurel Republican Party
You have seen Republicans act effectively as sore losers (or even sore winners, just ask Presidents Al Gore and Hillary Clinton) at the national level. But that GOP stench of disdain for the will of the voters has dripped into local elections in Mount Laurel.
Last night, the GOP-council voted 3-2 on partisan lines to advance an ordinance that would severely suppress the vote to their advantage. In this article, I’ll explain why, but first two disclaimers.
One: I’m a Democratic Mount Laurel Committee member. So I’m biased. But on these contentious issues, everyone is. Secondly, I was not at the meeting, so this article is based on my watching the live stream and communicating with people who were there both in real-time and afterwards.
The ordinance, which will be passed by the same GOP majority at its second reading next month, calls for a vote to change the town’s system of government from “partisan” to “non-partisan” and hold municipal elections in May instead of November. On the surface, this may sound good, and is the main talking point of the GOP sponsors. They contend it divorces the town’s issues from the combative nature of state and national politics. These arguments are specious at best. Speaker Tip O’Neill has pointed out that “all politics is local” and that includes our Council. In New Jersey, with multiple levels of government, council members must work closely with the county freeholders, state legislators, and Congressman Kim’s office to effectively navigate the interlocking tentacles that pervade infrastructure, health care, and plethora of other issues.
There are several motivations driving the GOP’s voter-suppression initiative. First, under the present system, the next municipal election will be held in November 2020. That’s the year that Donald Trump will be at the top of the ticket and the three Republican seats will be on the ballot. If the Democrats capture even one of these three seats, they receive a majority control of the Council. By moving the election to May, it inconveniences many voters and caregivers who may opt out of schlepping to the polls. But it does not have an impact on a large voting bloc – senior citizens. The town has many large senior communities, people who are retired, and can vote right in their own developments. They typically vote Republican. In other May elections (fire district and education – since moved to November), voter turnout has been about half of that of November elections. By forcing a low turnout election for Council, the Republicans have an unfair advantage.
The other impetus behind the voter-suppression initiative is the decreasing popularly of Donald Trump, even among thinking Republicans. If the referendum is quashed or defeated, the three Republicans will have to run on a ticket with the grafter-in-chief at the top. Going to non-partisan form of government, puts the municipal ballot off to the side, hiding party affiliation from the voters.
The most insidious aspect of the GOP initiative is racism. When Democratic Councilman Kareem Pritchett, an African-American corrections officer who puts his life on the line every day, was running, the opposition put out a clearly racist mailer showing a photo of Pritchett in a hoodie – the right’s symbol of disdain for their African-American neighbors.
It should also be pointed out that the cost of a May election would be up to $100,000, not an insignificant sum for a town this side that is always trying to control taxes and has a plethora of potholes on township roads that could desperately use those funds for repairs.
At last night’s meeting, there were public comments, ostensibly from both sides. The people supporting the referendum mostly read from talking points, probably supplied from the party, and were generally unconvincing. Several of them were people I had never seen at Council meetings before. The people advocating for the status quo spoke from the heart, many extemporaneously, and made a clear case for their side.
A portion of Councilman Pritchett’s closing remarks (posted on the Mount Laurel Democrats Facebook site by Thomas Bohm) appears below.