There are still plenty of people around who can remember watching election returns come in from Essex County and seeing the Republican strongholds of Maplewood and Millburn deliver 2-1 pluralities for the GOP ticket. Not too long ago, Maplewood and Millburn had all-Republican township committees.
Today, that small corner of southern Essex has three geographically contiguous suburban municipalities — Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange — that combined produced about as many votes for Democrats as the Newark did. These three towns are highly educated, progressive, diverse, mostly desegregated, and gay friendly train station towns. Most importantly for Democrats, people in these towns show up and vote on Election Day by numbers that outpace Essex’s urban areas.
The importance of the turnout disparity isn’t partisan; Essex Democrats win pretty much everywhere anyways. Instead, it represents a potential shift of Democratic power away from the urban and minority-majority areas that don’t always turn out at high rates, and towards the whiter suburbs that do.
There was a reason Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) wanted these three towns when congressional redistricting came along: this year, in her debut as the new congresswoman from Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange, she won the three towns 85% of the vote and a 16,658-vote plurality.
Sherrill won Maplewood with more than 92.5% of the vote, South Orange with 92%, and Millburn with 70%.
The massive pluralities won by Sherrill in these three towns came as a result of high voter turnout: 48% in Maplewood and South Orange and 43% in Millburn.
This corner of Essex produced about the same number of votes for Sherrill as Newark did for Democratic congressional candidates.
While Sherrill received a total of 21,050 votes out of Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange, Newark produced a total of 22,229 votes for Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-Newark) in the 10th and Rep.-elect Robert J. Menendez in the 8th.
Newark is roughly three times the size of Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange, but voter turnout there was a little less than 16%.
Still, all three Democrats who represent Essex in the U.S. House of Representatives carried their portion of Essex County by more than 40 points, and in the process did better than Joe Biden’s 2020 performance in 18 of the county’s 22 towns.
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, a Democrat who was re-elected to a sixth term in a landslide, received 20,347 votes (85.5%) in Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange, and 21,599 votes (90%) in Newark. Four years ago, Newark generated 48,315 votes, more than double the 22,280 he received from the three South Essex suburban towns.
In 2021, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy received 28,820 votes in Newark when 20% of voters turned out, while Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange – a block about one-third of the size of Newark — combined for 18,145 votes because the percentage of voters who turned out (41.5%) was more than double.
Democrats took Millburn, which Sherrill won by 3,104 votes, away from Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) during congressional redistricting. Payne had represented Maplewood and South Orange.
As recently as 2009, two years before legislative redistricting moved Millburn from the 21st district to the 27th, Republicans Assembly incumbents John Bramnick (R-Westfield) and Nancy Munoz (R-Summit) carried Millburn by approximately 500 votes.