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Update: South Orange BOT Does Not Vote to Move Board of Ed Elections

A successful resolution by the South Orange Board of Trustees — in combination with a resolution passed by Maplewood to do so last week — would have effectively moved Board of Ed elections from April to November.

On Feb. 15, the South Orange Board of Trustees did not vote to move the Board of Education's elections from April to November. Thus, the BOE elections will remain in April — at least for another year. Full story to come.

On Wednesday, the South Orange Board of Trustees will be taking action on a proposed resolution that would move the Board of Education elections to November.

When the New Jersey Legislature passed Assembly Bill No. 4394, allowing municipalities to , questions immediately arose about whether South Orange and Maplewood would prefer this option.

Although the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education is not covered by the law due to the peculiar configuration of the district which covers two towns but predates the separation of Maplewood from South Orange, another bill is being fast-tracked through the legislature to allow the new law to apply to South Orange-Maplewood.

Earlier this week, Maplewood’s Township of the elections to November.  The Board of Education met this week as well, , but signaling their support for the bill and the fact that it would allow them to move their elections in 2013 — if they decide to do so.

This has now put the focus on the South Orange Board of Trustees (BOT).  The new legislation says that the elections can be moved if either the Board of Education (BOE) votes to move them, the affected municipalities' governing bodies vote to move them, or voters can pass a public question that is presented to them at the November General Election.  Thus, if South Orange joins Maplewood and approves the move, the BOE’s vote will be moot.

If the move is approved, the request will need to be filed with the Essex County Clerk by Feb. 17.

Patch reached out to some of the South Orange trustees via e-mail to see what their feelings were regarding the move. 

“I strongly support moving all local elections to November,” Trustee Janine Bauer said.  “Our turnout in May and April elections has been routinely pathetic.  People are much more focused on the issues and the candidates on the country's and state's traditional voting day in November.  It just makes sense.”

Trustee Mark Rosner also said he supported the move to November; however he understands that there are both pros and cons to the move.

“The major advantage would be a larger turnout,” said Rosner.  “The major disadvantage is there would be other campaigns going on at the same time and will take a greater effort for candidates to get their message heard at a likely greater cost to the candidates.”

Trustee Howard Levison said that he did not support moving the elections.  Trustee Michael Goldberg was still debating the issue, noting that was looking “forward to hearing from the public over the coming days” to help him form a decision.

“On the one hand, November elections will increase turnout and save money,” said Goldberg.  “On the other hand, moving the elections to November will eliminate the check and balance over the school budget provided by the Board of School Estimate.”

Also at issue is whether the school board elections will be lost in the mix in November when everyone else has elections. Rosner has asked for a sample ballot from the county clerk so that he can see how it would look when there are multiple campaigns for national, state and local offices.

“Partisan elections would be given the top part of the ballot and there is a chance that the BOE candidates would be on the lower right side,” said Rosner. “It could be a very crowded ballot leading to the question will the BOE candidates be forgotten on election day.”

Rosner hopes the county looks into new voting machines that can “better accommodate multiple positions” and “the county should consider upgrading to these types of machines if most towns are moving towards having the BOE elections in November.”

Another advantage according to Rosner would be that November elections would leave to the polls being open longer. Currently, the polls for BOE elections are open from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Traditionally, November elections have all-day polls.

“I have always questioned why the polls for the BOE elections were only open for the afternoon and evenings and have always felt this was part of the reason for the low turnouts,” said Rosner. “Some states now allow for a longer voting period then one day giving more people a chance to vote and is something else the state should consider for our elections.”

Something that most of the trustees agree on though is that November elections will increase voter turnout and participation.

"I believe moving the BOE election is the right thing to do not only for cost saving measures, but for generating higher voter turnout and standardizing our BOE structure," said South Orange Village President Alex Torpey. 

Despite supporting the movement of the BOE elections, Torpey is still opposed to moving the BOT elections as well.

"Although I believe that moving the BOE election to November seems to makes sense and won't be unduly influenced by November partisanship, I am not of the same feeling for the regular municipal elections, which it seems would be best to remain in May," Torpey added.

The Board of Trustees will meet on Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at Village Hall.  The public will be given an opportunity to speak. This will be their only chance to pass the resolution before the Feb. 17 deadline.

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