Montclair Municipal Elections: To Move or Not to Move

BY  |  Thursday, Mar 31, 2011 2:38pm  |  COMMENTS (6)

Last night’s discussion about the pros and cons of shifting Montclair’s municipal elections from May to November raised lots of questions and will likely result in the formation of a committee to evaluate the proposed change. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area, the event drew around 35 residents, ranging from seasoned community activists to those less entrenched in local politics, according to Elizabeth Santeramo, Public Relations Officer for the LWV’s montclair area chapter and moderator of the discussion.

“The questions and comments from residents were eye-opening,” Santeramo told Baristanet. “People spoke of the town’s voting history and provided more information on the issue so that we ended up with a good view of both sides.”

Mayor Jerry Fried, who spoke towards the end of the meeting, told Baristanet that he is pleased with the way the process of bringing this issue to the public’s attention has gone so far. “It’s a first step,” he said.

Fried says he is in favor of any change that will make Montclair’s government a more representative democracy. “Now, fewer than 7,000 of the town’s 26,000 registered voters turn out for municipal elections, and most of those are single family home owners,” he explained. “My hope is that a November election would increase voter turnout and resident participation in governance, allowing the town’s renters — who are just as much a part of the town as the home owners — to be better represented. It’s hard to argue that more voters is a bad thing.”

However, Montclair resident Martin Schwartz told Baristanet that the mayor’s statements about the change increasing voter participation, particularly among renters, “simply do not hold water logically.” Schwartz sent us the following comments:

He had a completely opposite view when he argued against allowing open voting and direct participation for school board elections, arguing that extreme, single-issue groups who were not involved with the school system — might gain control over the school board process. That’s why we need to study this issue carefully, and wait to see if there is any clear impact on those Township’s who have changed their dates, before we take any action.

Councilor Cary Africk also offered Baristanet some thoughts on the issue:

The most [common] two reasons for a switch would be to:
– Save the money necessary to run a separate election,
– Increase voter turnout.

Reasons against making the change included:
a) The money saved, approximately $50,000, would only be saved once every four years. Is saving $12,500 a year really that significant?

b) From all data presented it seemed that more people come out to November elections when higher-level people were being elected.

But the data also show that there is a wide disparity in participation between the top names on the ballet and those lower. Thus the person at the top of the ballot may get 50% of the registered voters, but the person at the bottom of the ballot may only get 35% of the registered voters.

Thus, even if a May election gets only 25% of the registered voters, a change to November might not increase the participation to 50% (or whatever), but may only get participation increased from 25 to 35%. Some data even show a participation of LESS with a November election.

c) It will cost more for candidates to run. It will cost candidates to become more visible. Take, for example, municipal elections being held in a Presidential year. There will be a huge amount of discussion and publicity, articles, columns, blogs, meetings and discussions. About the President. This will make it much harder for the critical issues that face Montclair to get the attention those issues deserve.

If it costs more to run as a Municipal candidate, fewer will run. And with people contributing to National campaigns, fewer dollars will be available for the local candidates.

d) There is no actual data guiding us. We don’t know if this change will work.

e) Having more voters turn out does not imply that more “informed” voters will vote. It is reasonable to assume that anyone putting in the effort to come and vote during a Municipal only election will be familiar with the Municipal candidates and the issues. During a national election a voter may have little knowledge of the Municipal candidates and elections because that’s not the reason he came – he came to vote for President, Representative, Senator, etc

If we decide to move forward, most everyone thought it best to form a Committee to research the move. After all, what’s the rush?
Some thought in addition to a Committee the question should be put in a Referendum so all could decide (at least the ones who would show up for a Referendum).

It was also clear that most thought these changes, if implemented, should take place in 2016 and NOT in 2012. If implemented in 2012 the change would in effect, extend the term of all current officials from July 1, 2012 until December 31, 2012, an additional six months. Some have suggested this is the “real” reason some on this Council want to make the change.

The Mayor, who spoke at the end of the meeting, also claimed that such a change might affect positively turnout of the 43% of the Town that is comprised of people who rent. The Mayor surmised that these renters were the least likely people to come out in an election. By moving the election to November, perhaps many more would vote. This is pure conjecture. Perhaps there are reasons other than “it’s not in November” that renters don’t vote. Perhaps they don’t plan on staying very long. Or perhaps they feel that tax, as well as other town issues, don’t really affect them.

Mayor Fried said that he is all for the formation of a committee to study the issue, and encourages continued public conversation and debate. “The question is, how do we empower more Montclair residents?” he asked, during a conversation with Baristanet. “People who own homes are more likely to be involved in the governance of the town — no council member or mayor has ever been a renter. At the very least, we can shoot to get non-homeowners voting.”

6 Comments

  1. POSTED BY Cary Africk  |  March 31, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

    I have a much more difficult job than the Mayor does. When I write I have to try and confirm what I write.

    “no council member or mayor has ever been a renter”

    Has he called EVERY former mayor or council member?

    I moved to Montclair in 1984 and rented an apartment on Lorraine for four years. It was a short walk to the downtown and the train, and my wife and I loved living there. The apartment was large, the neighbors friendly. I live there until my daughter was born, in 1988.

    I don’t think I ever voted in a Municipal election. I was busy with my new job and my life. I just wasn’t interested in “politics” at a local level.

    Indeed when I moved to a house, in the South End, I still wasn’t interested in politics. It wasn’t until a new neighbor moved in — Terry Reidy, the former Town Manager in Montclair.

    People are going to have to do a lot more work to explain “why people don’t vote in a Municipal election.” I don’t think “because it’s not with a national election” is going to explain it.

  2. POSTED BY leffe  |  March 31, 2011 @ 4:10 pm

    Well I have been a renter in 07043 for 8 years and an owner in 07042 for 2 years. I have always tried to vote, since due to the low voter turn-out may vote is magnified. By selecting renters in the statements by our town representatives it is clear that there is a type of bias against being a renter. That is too bad since being an renter, it allowed me to avoid the housing bubble; which was very fortunate.

    For the last Federal election I was dishearten to vote for Donald Payne since my vote was not needed nor solicited. Mr. Payne did not even send a flier or put up a sign.

    The town election real does matter since these are the people that control our schools and other local services. The current bunch of yahoos can’t seem to pass a budget or move the town forward to meet the challenges of 2011. Too muck with “bike boy”, hearing the the zip code divide is racial etc. It seems that the town likes low turnout to ave more control of the election.

  3. POSTED BY rubberchix  |  March 31, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

    Mayor Fried’s track record is opposing voter input via an elected school board. Last week he was quoted dismissing the constituents who had issues with the Parking Authority as “squeaky wheels”.

    And now he says he wants to change the voting schedule for the altruistic purpose of increasing voter input? I smell a rat.

  4. POSTED BY ipsofacto  |  March 31, 2011 @ 4:49 pm

    Good discussion. Let’s move to a commission to study for 6 mos. Also, include moving election to a Saturday as an option. If valid, put to a referendum on 2012 ballot. Done. Next…
    Enact Shade Tree ordinance. !st reading by next week. Next.
    Next. Next. Next. Good job.

  5. POSTED BY jerseygurl  |  March 31, 2011 @ 5:04 pm

    Fried’s connections to Blue Wave and the Democrats will benefit him if the election is moved to November. Montclair tends to vote overwhelmingly for one party in state and national elections.
    This move, combined with the firing of the previous town attorney so he could be replaced by a former Blue Wave board member, is likely to put Fried in an advantageous position in the next election.

  6. POSTED BY agideon  |  April 01, 2011 @ 5:36 pm

    When is Mayor Fried going to petition the state to have our Governor appoint the Montclair Town Council? Just as Fried asserted regarding the Board of Education, this will provide us a more representative Town Council.

    …Andrew

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