There are a handful special school referendum elections on September 24 that could offer a glimpse into the effect of New Jersey’s new vote-by-mail law on voter engagement in the 2019 general election.
The new law, which puts VBM ballots into the hands of anyone who requested one for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 elections, could offer a glimpse of how typically low-turnout elections are changed once the ballot makes it inside the home of a voter.
With State Assembly candidates heading the ticket this year, this cycle is typically viewed as an off-off -year election. In 2015, statewide voter turnout was at just 22%.
The Rancocas Valley Regional School District has a $21.7 million bond issue on the ballot for voter approval. The district includes five Burlington county municipalities in the hotly contested 8th district Assembly race.
Voters in Carteret, Colts Neck, Fair Haven, Hawthorne, Oaklyn, Rockaway Borough, Rutherford, and the regional school districts for Rancocas Valley and Watchung Hills face school referendums tomorrow.
Tomorrow is one of five days during the year when local school boards can seek voter approval of school construction proposals. Proposed construction projects in all nine school districts holding referendums tomorrow are eligible to receive some state funding under New Jersey’s Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act.
In March, 16% of voters participated in a special school referendum in Manasquan. Nearly 17% of the voters cast their ballots by mail.
Earlier this month, after the new VBM law took effect, nearly 40% of Edison voters who received VBM ballots returned them for a September 10 special referendum election on the township’s water supply.
A special school referendum in Warren Township last January had a turnout of just 7.9%, although there was no real controversy attached to it and a comparison between Warren and Edison is really apples and oranges.
Still, VBM ballots in the Warren special referendum made up 32% of the total votes cast. That was before VBM reform was approved that extended the mail-in ballot universe beyond the 2016 general election.
Voter turnout appears to have been spiked by enhanced attention to a water-related local issue.
To put that number into some perspective, voter turnout for a September referendum was about 40% of the total turnout in the 2018 general election for the United States Senate and about 50% of turnout in the 2017 race for Governor.
Another perspective: almost as many Edison voters participated in a special water referendum as did in a 2013 special election for the United States Senate: turnout in the referendum was about 89% of the total turnout in the race for Frank Lautenberg’s seat in the U.S. Senate.