New Jersey is a land of many Election Days: general elections, primary elections, school board elections, school referendums, fire district referendums, municipal special elections, and so on. But on many of these Election Days, few voters come to the polls, tasking a small segment of the electorate with making major democratic decisions.
That’s exactly what happened in most of the 13 towns that hosted nonpartisan municipal elections yesterday. With nothing on the ticket other than local nonpartisan races – in many cases uncontested ones – relatively few New Jerseyans actually turned out to vote. (All numbers in this story are based on ballots counted so far; a small number more are likely to be added in the coming days.)
Of the seven towns that hosted contested elections, Atlantic County’s Margate fared by far the best: 2,241 ballots were cast in the race for three city commission seats, for a voter turnout rate of 44.1%. That’s approximately in line with the turnout New Jersey typically sees in non-presidential general elections such as last year’s congressional midterms or the 2021 gubernatorial election.
Two Hudson County towns, North Bergen and West New York, also had decent turnout rates after hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on each race.
Approximately 33% of North Bergen’s voters cast ballots, while approximately 27% did so in West New York. (The Hudson County Clerk’s website did not post precise numbers for how many ballots were cast in each town, so these totals are estimates.)
Close behind was the Monmouth County borough of Red Bank, where 26.6% of voters turned out for the borough’s first nonpartisan municipal election. In nearby Ocean Township, the turnout rate was 19.2%.
Red Bank Mayor Billy Portman received 1,251 votes in his landslide re-election – well fewer than the 2,475 votes he received in last year’s November general election, though more than the 799 he got in the 2022 primary. Many local politicians in Red Bank are already discussing moving local elections back to November after a recent charter change switched them to May.
Both Red Bank and Ocean Township also had complex multi-way races for council, but in each, every winning candidate received votes on at least 50% of all ballots cast. Ocean Township Councilwoman Margie Donlon, the fifth-place finisher for five seats, got support from 53.6% of all voters; Kristina Bonatakis, who finished in sixth for six seats in Red Bank, got 51.2%.
In Verona, the turnout rate for two council seats was 18.3%. And finally, the city of Passaic finished at the bottom of the pack: only 2,756 ballots were cast out of 30,681 registered voters.
That means that although the council slate backed by Mayor Hector Lora won in a landslide, they only got votes from a tiny percentage of the city’s voters. The best-performing candidate, Council President Gary Schaer, received just 2,022 votes, meaning that 93% of the city’s electorate didn’t vote for him.
Turnout was even lower in many uncontested races.
Two Cape May towns both did alright: Avalon had a turnout rate of approximately 27%, and Sea Isle City was at approximately 19%. Both towns are very small, and in Avalon, eight-term mayor Martin Pagliughi did not seek re-election, paving the way for a leadership change for the first time in 32 years.
Other towns fared much worse: Haddon Township had a turnout rate of 10.5%; South Orange’s was 8.7% (four years after a much higher-turnout contested election); and at the very bottom of the pack, Cedar Grove was at 4.6% and Lodi was at 4.4% (according to numbers from the Bergen Record).
Of course, it may not be reasonable to expect voters to come out to the polls in the middle of May when there’s no actual competition in the ballot – but it also means that important elected officials like Cedar Grove Mayor Joseph Maceri can win with the support of barely 4% of the overall electorate.