Citing a variety of technical deficiencies in their petitions, municipal clerks in Teaneck and Montclair have rejected petitions from local organizers aiming to move their townships’ nonpartisan local elections from May to November.
The petitions would have put a referendum on the ballot for the two North Jersey municipalities this November, which if passed would go into effect in the 2022 elections.
Petition organizers in both townships argued that local elections would be better served if they were consolidated with the higher turnout November general election. In Teaneck, for example, the May 2020 municipal election saw only 27% of registered voters cast a ballot, compared to 75% that November. Both townships are heavily Democratic; Teaneck gave President Joe Biden 73% of the vote last November, and Montclair gave him a whopping 89%.
The proposals would also save tens of thousands of dollars currently spent on administering separate May elections.
In Montclair, Township Attorney Ira Karasick wrote in a July 23 memorandum to the town’s petitioners that five errors were present in their petition, among them the fact that it lacked the full text of the proposed referendum.
Karasick left open the possibility of a future petition succeeding but said that “the deficiencies … are not remediable without initiating a new petition.”
Meanwhile, Teaneck petitioners – among them Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) – were hindered both by clerical errors and an insufficient number of signatures submitted.
Teaneck Township Clerk Doug Ruccione wrote in a July 29 letter to the petitioners that the 653 valid signatures they submitted fell below the required number, which — depending on an inconsistency in state law — would have been either 1,977 or 791.
In a letter written on July 31, the Teaneck petitioners responded forcefully to Ruccione’s rejection, arguing they had been misled about the status of their petition and were now being unfairly expected to gather thousands of extra signatures in fewer than 10 days.
The petitioners also insinuated political motivations for the decision.
“It is no surprise that the One Town, One Vote petition is being challenged by the Township Clerk, who is appointed by the Teaneck Township council,” they wrote. “The council majority has been fiercely opposed to the proposed change to the status quo.”
They also aimed some of their anger at Ruccione, writing, “This move by the Town Clerk, who is supposed to operate without political interference, highlights that democracy is under strain in Teaneck.”
With the recent setbacks, petitioners in both towns have two paths forward. One possibility is to convince a supermajority of the township government to vote to put the referendum on the November ballot. The deadline for doing so, however, is fast approaching on August 27, and would be unlikely to succeed in either town.
The other option is for organizers to regroup and try once again in 2022, with a successful referendum then going into effect in 2023.
One notable consequence of this option if it succeeds is that, after being elected in May 2022, local elected officials will possibly have to face voters once again in November 2023 – unless the wording of the referendum doesn’t start the clock until 2024.
Vote Montclair, the grassroots group seeking to move municipal elections from May to November, is also seeking an elected Board of Education. That would end the current system where the mayor directly appoints school board members.
Mayor Sean Spiller has said he would support the move.