By David Cruz
Statewide public questions on where the new gas tax money will go and whether casinos should be expanded to the north of the state are just now coming into focus for voters. The results will have statewide implications, but in towns across the state, there are local questions that will affect everything from the local tax levy to election schedules.
In North Wildwood, residents can vote to return to the town’s original name, which I’m sure you all know was Anglesea.
In Barnegat, voters will decide whether taxpayers should foot the bill for the annual Independence Day fireworks.
Saddle River residents can vote for either a lethal or non-lethal deer management policy. One question for each.
And a non-binding referendum in Kinnelon would allow the borough to spend up to $1.2 million to install AstroTurf on the high school field.
In Jersey City, a ballot question that would change local elections from May to November has lost some of its steam now that Mayor Steve Fulop has decided not to run for governor. Fulop was seen by some as backing the measure as a fallback in case he didn’t win the Democratic primary in June.
Originally this was a question about when to hold local elections. The question now is, has it morphed into a referendum on the mayor?
Bill Matsikoudis says he’s running against Fulop — in May or September — but doesn’t think the question is all about the mayor any more.
“I think that this notion of it being a referendum, we don’t even really know what he wants. I mean some people think that he would prefer to have the election in May,” said Matsikoudis, “so, most people don’t even know that the question is on the ballot. They don’t think about him any more when it comes to it and a lot of his associates who are supporting him now have flipped their positions on this question. They’d rather see a no vote prevail.”
Fulop said he’s been clear about his position on this for some time.
“I thought it was good government, increased voter turnout and saved some money,” he said. “You know, you live in a world of cynics today, particularly in government, so you know, even though I started this six years ago, people assume that there was some self-serving component. My position hasn’t changed. It’s going to be a good thing and I hope it passes.”
Hoboken passed a similar referendum in 2011 and county election officials say the city has seen a 10 percent increase in turnout but having more voters does not necessarily translate into a more engaged electorate.
“You get somebody out for an April or May election, those people are there; they know their issues; they know who they want to vote for,” noted Hudson County Board of Elections Clerk Michael Harper. “You get somebody out in November who may be looking and following national elections, watching CNN, they’re more interested in the top two names. Many of them just fall off along the way. The further down in the ballot you get, the less people vote on those races.”
But election officials say it’s always a good idea to exercise your franchise, whether you do it in May or November, and read the public question all the way through because the devil is always in the details.