Move All School Elections to November

December 20, 2011

A bill wending its way through the Statehouse that would allow school board elections to be moved to November and abolish school budget votes if school districts remain within the property tax cap makes a lot of sense — if it’s required of all school districts.

Unfortunately, under the current proposed legislation, it is not. School board elections may be moved to the November general election, if the switch is approved by a school board, municipal governing body or a petition signed by 15 percent of the voters.

All school districts should be required to hold elections in November. Any bifurcated system, with some districts continuing to hold elections in April while others move to November, undermines the legislation. Lawmakers should amend the bill to make the November vote mandatory for everyone.

The advantage of holding elections in November, when far more voters will show up at the polls, is obvious. So, too, is the benefit of eliminating budget votes that remain within the 2 percent mandatory spending cap. That is why the bill seems to have widespread bipartisan support in Trenton, as well as support from the state's largest teachers union and an association that represents school boards.

After more than a century of these springtime elections and decades of legislators lamenting the low voter turnout during the April school elections, the time has come to finally doing something about it.

Those opposed to the change maintain that if school elections are held with the general election, school boards will come under the influence of political parties and face the same fundraising and patronage pressures. Those sorts of pressures and influences already exist in some fashion, and work their insidious effects in the inevitable vacuum of voter indifference in April.

And while it is true that the state may need to spend some $12 million for new voting machines to accommodate the longer ballots that will be required when the names of school candidates are included, that expense will certainly be amortized over time and, in the long run, save the money it costs to hold a separate election in April.

This legislation is now poised for votes in both chambers of the state Legislature. Michael Drewniak, spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, said last week that the administration was still reviewing the measure.

We hope his review yields the same conclusion that so many have already reached: that November school elections are a good idea. So good an idea, in fact, that they should be mandatory, not subject to the whims of individual districts. Communties don’t deserve options here; like it or not, they should accept it, and shut up about it. Trying to maintain the status quo is nothing more than an effort to retain a kind of control over the process that low voter turnout allows.

The business of moving all school elections to November should be supported by the governor, state lawmakers and an engaged electorate looking to save time and money.