TRENTON –The state Senate has approved a bill to allow New Jersey towns to hold nonpartisan municipal elections during the November general election. Currently, nonpartisan municipal elections are held on the second Tuesday in May.
“New Jersey has so many individual elections in a given year that it’s hard for voters to be fully engaged in the process,” said Senator Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, a sponsor of the bill. “But every year, without fail, state, county and municipal election officials oversee voting for school boards, fire districts, primaries, Presidential primaries, nonpartisan races, runoffs and the November General election, spending millions of dollars in taxpayer funds for an increasingly disengaged electorate. We need to consolidate elections in order to reduce voter fatigue, connect with the public, and reduce the cost of our nearly perpetual election cycle in the Garden State.”
“Allowing towns that hold May nonpartisan elections to move those elections to November without jeopardizing their nonpartisan status is a win for everyone,” said Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), who sponsored the Assembly version of the bill. “Municipalities win because they save money while being able to keep their unique form of government; voters and candidates win because the electorate is more engaged and more active in November elections.”
The bill (S-1099/A-351) would allow any municipality with a population of 10,000 or less and certain other municipalities that meet special size, placement and population criteria that hold nonpartisan municipal elections to move, through passage of an ordinance, the election to the same date as the general election – the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
Under the bill, municipalities would have to approve a local ordinance in order to consolidate partisan and nonpartisan elections to the November date, and would only be allowed to return to a May election date after ten years under the new system and through additional local ordinance. Under the bill, current office-holders’ terms would be extended to the start of newly elected office-holders in the November election, and the ballot design would be required to draw clear distinctions between the partisan and nonpartisan elections.
Municipalities would also have to designate by ordinance how they would handle a run-off election, if necessary for nonpartisan elected offices on the ballot.
“Giving communities the option to save money by moving their municipal nonpartisan elections to November just makes sense,” said Assemblyman Peter J. Barnes III (D-Middlesex), the other sponsor of the Assembly bill. “It allows towns the freedom to decide what electoral approach is right for them, and helps them to save money in the process.”
The Senate cleared the measure 38-0. The Assembly initially passed the measure in February 2008, but will have to reconsider it after the Senate amended the bill.
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