TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Barbara Buono which would allow municipalities with nonpartisan forms of government the option to hold their May elections on the same day as the general election in November in order to save tax dollars and increase voter participation was approved by a vote of 38-0 by the New Jersey Senate yesterday.
“New Jersey has so many individual elections in a given year that it’s hard for voters to be fully engaged in the process,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “But every year, without fail, State, county and municipal election officials oversee voting for school boards, fire districts, primaries, Presidential primaries, nonpartisan races, runoffs and the November General election, spending millions of dollars in taxpayer funds for an increasingly disengaged electorate. We need to consolidate elections in order to reduce voter fatigue, connect with the public, and reduce the cost of our nearly perpetual election cycle in the Garden State.”
The bill, S-1099, would give municipalities the option of changing the date of their nonpartisan municipal elections – held the second Tuesday in May – to coincide with the general election held in November. Under the bill, municipalities would have to approve a local ordinance in order to consolidate partisan and nonpartisan elections to the November date, and would only be allowed to return to a May election date after ten years under the new system and through additional local ordinance. Under the bill, current office-holders’ terms would be extended to the start of newly elected office-holders in the November election, and the ballot design would be required to draw clear distinctions between the partisan and nonpartisan elections.
Municipalities would also have to designate by ordinance how they would handle a run-off election, if necessary for nonpartisan elected offices on the ballot.
“We want to preserve the intention of nonpartisan elections while allowing local officials to cut costs and encourage voter participation,” said Senator Buono. “This bill strikes an important balance between the original purpose of nonpartisan elections and the benefits of consolidation. Ultimately, it will result in better voter participation at a reduced cost to the municipality.”
Senator Buono noted that switching the date of nonpartisan elections in New Jersey would have multiple benefits, including reducing voter fatigue from the many different elections held in New Jersey, and reducing the cost of running so many elections. In the 86 nonpartisan municipalities in the Garden State, voter turnout is usually light for May elections, ensuing that the candidate with the best name recognition – typically the incumbent – is most often elected.
“New Jersey’s fractured election process is simply a luxury that municipalities, counties and the State can no longer afford, and it results in voters who are too inundated with campaign literature to care,” said Senator Buono. “Democracy only works with the consent of the governed, and when only a small fraction of eligible New Jerseyans vote in an election, it’s time to reexamine electoral policy. Through this legislation, we can hopefully encourage more people to get involved in the electoral process, and preserve some of our limited public resources for other purposes.”
The bill was approved by the Assembly by a vote of 68-11 in June of last year. It now heads back to the Assembly for consideration of Senate amendments.