Change this bill

One piece of government news that caught my eye this morning was the continuing advancement of legislation that would allow municipalities holding nonpartisan elections in May to move those elections to the date of the November general election, saving money and likely increasing voter turnout at elections while retaining their election’s nonpartisan status.

“Allowing towns that hold May nonpartisan elections to move those elections to November without jeopardizing their nonpartisan status is a win for everyone,” said one sponsor, Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, in a statement. “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.”

At first it looked like a great idea from Mr. Diegnan, D-Middlesex.

But just like so many of New Jersey’s more innovative and beneficial laws, a proviso attached to the measure severely restricts its benefits away from those who need it most.

Rammed into the bottom of the legislation is the exception that the power to move to November elections and greater accountability would only apply to towns with populations under 10,000 and other special municipalities, a group of which Trenton and many other New Jersey municipalities are not members.

The logic of why larger towns and cities that already experience horrendously low voter turnout and even less accountability on the part of public officials would be left outside of the scope of such a law escapes me.

It seems to me that the cycle of reelection repeatedly handed to Trenton’s current bankrupt administration could be broken more easily with greater voter turnout.
This city – and others like it – also could have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in doing so, by eliminating all the work involved in having another election in May.

Some may argue that holding elections in May makes elections non-partisan, but that is a farce equal to the lie that says it is better to hold school elections in May to keep politics out of the voting.

The fact is that increased voter turnout translates into greater accountability and better attention to the public interest, and therefore trumps any small-scale benefits in less or “nonpartisan” elections.

Someone ought to get on the phone and talk to Mr. Diegnan, and get him to eliminate the population limits in his otherwise ingenious legislation.


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