There is an old political adage that says, “Signs don’t vote.”
By this, people mean that someone who posts a window or lawn sign for a particular candidate may not vote that way once in the privacy of the voting booth.
This has always been frustrating for political parties, who need to keep their voters in line, and was one reason for many why absentee ballots (now called ballots by mail) were so popular since they are more public than the ballot box.
In the more distant past, people often sold their votes for cash or even lottery tickets, but even then, nobody could – unless filing an absentee ballot –actually prove someone voted this way or that.
Assemblyman Raj Mukherji may have come up with a solution, with new legislation that would permit taking selfies in the voting booth, and so party officials can simply ask a voter to produce a photo showing how they voted, either as a testimony to party loyalty or as a receipt for cash or other favors offered in exchange for the vote.
The privacy of the ballot box is one of the most sacred traditions in American democracy, because it guards against intimidation of voters whose government or other jobs might be in jeopardy if proven they vote the wrong way. At a time when national candidates are fighting over whether it is possible to rig elections, this legislation feeds into the perception not only that it is possible, but that Hudson County will take the lead in making it likely.
This proposal also comes ahead of a particularly contentious municipal election in Jersey City, where Mukherji was at one point rumored to be running, though now he will likely be supporting the reelection of Mayor Steve Fulop. The need to count on every loyal vote possible may be critical for the reelection effort.
Voter fraud in the computer age is more rare than it was in the past. Dead people vote less often. Institutions such as the county’s senior center in Secaucus are far less influential than in the past in deciding local elections.
Senior citizens in more conventional senior housing and residents of public housing, however, can be vulnerable to intimidation. Often people live with the fear that they might be put out of their housing if they fail to vote a certain way.
This is not possible, but it’s almost impossible to dispel the myth. So this idea that residents might be asked no matter how subtly to produce proof as to how they voted is not very farfetched, especially when Mukherji not only serves as a state assemblyman, but the executive director of the Jersey City Housing Authority.
School board elections
You know something is amiss in Hudson County when the quietest school board election is in Hoboken.
Quiet may be the wrong word, since six candidates are seeking to fill three seats, and two slates of candidates represent two distinct views.
Big issues include declining enrollment at the high school, and the mingling of seventh and eighth graders with the high school students.
Historically, Hoboken had a traditional grammar school model that included grades kindergarten to eighth grade. But because declining numbers in the high school opened up space, this was changed.
Seventh and eighth graders are considered the most volatile, as it’s during that age group that children’s hormones kick in. Some districts use a junior high or middle school model that isolates these grades. But currently, the seventh and eighth grades are in the Hoboken High School building. The Parents United ticket appears to want to return to the older model. They are opposed by the Forward Together ticket of incumbents backed by Mayor Dawn Zimmer.
Bayonne, Secaucus, and Jersey City’s elections are much more controversial. Newly-elected members in both Bayonne and Secaucus will be faced with the arduous task of seeking out and selecting new schools superintendants. The current Bayonne board recently announced that it would no longer retain Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan, after more than a decade and a half. This means new members will be helping to steer the school district in a new direction. The 12 candidates seeking three three-year terms and one two-year term represent a wide spectrum of political beliefs that could mean radical changes in the future.
A slight snag in Secaucus
Secaucus thought it had settled its superintendent question two years ago after the board – under pressure from teachers and parents – removed an unpopular superintendent and replaced her with someone that seemed to fit the wishes and desires of the community. Late last year, that replacement resigned and the board had to start the process over again, working in the meantime with an interim superintendent. Unfortunately at the same time, the district was seeing a major expansion of its high school complex. On top of this, one of the six candidates, incumbent and Board President John Gerbasio announced that he is being considered for appointment to the town council. So while Gerbasio will be on the ballot, he has suspended his campaign.
This will be somewhat confusing since the three candidates who receive the most votes generally are awarded the contested seats. With three seats up for grabs, it is likely that Gerbasio will finish in the top three, giving the third seat to the fourth largest vote getter.
With Lyles or against?
By far, Jersey City’s school board election is the most contentious. Members of Jersey City United best represent the philosophy of the three incumbents that chose not to seek reelection this year. Three years ago, board control shifted thanks to a powerful group called Parents for Progress, allowing for the appointment of Dr. Marcia Lyles as superintendent. Since then, partly because of city politics and a shift of alliance by Mayor Steven Fulop, this group has seen its control of the board slipping. While the new board cannot rescind the recent four-year contract extension given to Lyles, Education Matters the competing ticket that support from the teachers’ union clearly has a significant change of direction in mind.
The teachers union has been anti-Lyles since the start, and while the reasons for this vary depending on which side’s story you believe, this election will could mean a dramatic shift away from many of the policies Lyles and the board previously embraced.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org