Vote Montclair is currently focused on two initiatives centered on the desire for more voter engagement in the township’s public life. Both involve referendum questions Vote Montclair is working to place on the ballot.
Elected Board of Education
Montclair is now one of only 11 out of 565 municipalities in New Jersey where members of the local Board of Education are appointed by the mayor rather than elected by popular vote.
While there are some sensible arguments for an appointed Board of Education, we believe the current system lacks democratic accountability and legitimacy and should be replaced by one in which voters rather than mayors choose who sits on the BOE. (Some of the arguments for and against switching to an elected model are spelled out in this recent opinion article in the Montclair Local by Vote Montclair founder Erik D’Amato.)
The disrespect commonly shown our BOE members is an advertisement for giving them the legitimacy that naturally comes with being democratically elected.
Vote Montclair is currently consulting with election lawyers and other experts on the mechanics of the referendum process.
To get involved in this effort please click here.
Municipal Election Reform
As with the township’s unelected Board of Education, Montclair’s practice of holding “off-cycle” municipal elections represents an increasingly anomalous democratic deficit, with voter turnout and engagement unrepresentative of the town’s civic spirit.
Put bluntly, Montclair is a town of famously politically-aware and active people who don’t bother to vote or participate in their own community’s local elections. Over the last three municipal elections voter turnout averaged under 25%, and in one of those elections all but one of the candidates up for election ran unopposed.
Why is turnout so pitifully low in Montclair’s local elections? It’s largely just a matter of timing.
A common misconception is that Montclair is obliged to hold its municipal elections in May in order to retain their nonpartisan character. But as outlined in this piece in the Montclair Local, a 2010 state law now allows municipalities to hold nonpartisan elections in November as well. And several have since made the switch, dramatically increasing voter turnout and engagement, as well as enjoying saving significant financial savings that can be used on other municipal needs.
As with the campaign to make Montclair’s Board of Education elected rather than appointed, moving our municipal elections from May to November requires a petition drive followed by the consent of a majority of voters in the upcoming general election.
Alongside these and other one-time initiatives Vote Montclair will be working year-round to increase voter engagement and election integrity, to make sure voters have the ultimate say in local elections, and that every vote counts.