July 15, 2018 | ° F

Board adds 600 ballots to city question count

About 30 New Brunswick residents and University students fought to make their votes count at the Middlesex County Board of Elections on Jersey Avenue last night after learning that many of the city’s provisional ballots would be thrown out because of errors in registration.

Out of the 1,000 provisional votes originally cast for the election last Tuesday, about 400 were not approved, said Amy Braunstein, New Brunswick resident and supporter of the Vote Yes campaign.

Members of the campaign challenged more than 350 of the rejected votes.

Students showed up last night to defend their rejected ballots because of the close race for the New Brunswick municipal question, which if passed, would allow voters to elect members to the New Brunswick Board of Education.

Mayor James Cahill currently appoints members to the board.

“In any race where there’s a margin of 13 votes and there are about 600 votes to be counted, those votes will be important,” said Spencer Klein, a Rutgers University Student Assembly off-campus senator.

While the Board of Elections had the final say on which ballots counted, Klein, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said residents came out to oversee the process because they may have personally had their ballot discarded. He said reasons for throwing out a ballot range from incorrect mailing addresses to incorrect Return Post Office addresses.

“There are a lot of students whose votes can very well be cast out and we are here for that,” he said.

Provisional votes from outside of New Brunswick that are approved would be considered “no local votes” and would count only for issues above the municipal level, meaning they would be excluded from the Board of Education question, said Donald Katz, a commissioner on the Board of Elections.

“When provisional ballots cast by students get thrown out, that ... removes the electoral agency from the students and that is the last thing we want,” he said.

Among the students who came to challenge their rejected vote was Chinwe Oriji, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, who said her ballot was tossed out because she put her post office address instead of her Livingston campus address.

Natasha Marchick, a member of New Jersey United Students, had a similar problem after she registered to vote in New Brunswick, but had her ballot placed in the rejected pile because it was not registered properly.

“It’s not a democratic government if they throw out and disenfranchise voters,” said Marchick, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “I was disenfranchised.”

Among the challenged ballots were 63 votes that were originally tossed out because the voters could not be found in the registration files, said Braunstein, adding that members of the Vote Yes campaign later found all of them in the system.

“The Board of Elections couldn’t find them in the books, but we found them,” Braunstein said.

Yet Daniel Frankel, commissioner on the Board of Elections, said the board could not examine the 63 votes during the hearing because they were only found on a list that was not dated, so it remains to be seen if they were registered in time to vote for November’s elections.

Frankel said the 63 votes would be examined after the hearing to see which ballots were registered in time and challenged at a later date, but he hopes to see a resolution soon.

“We have to move on,” Frankel said. “We have to get the election certified.”

About 10 to 15 student votes were rejected for the same reason, but Braunstein said RUSA’s registration drive records show that they should be counted.

Martin Arocho, who previously served as the president of the New Brunswick Board of Education in 2002, said the count affects the final tally for the municipal question, which was raised once before when he was on the board.

Arocho now supports the Vote Yes campaign and said a system in which the mayor appoints the board is not inherently bad, but the mayor needs to be tough on the members who appear to be incompetent in their roles.

“It depends on who runs the city,” said Arocho, a New Brunswick resident. “If you run the city ... then you should appoint people that are going to work for the kids. If it’s not working because of the [mayor], then it would work better to be elected by the people.”

Arocho said the problem stems from the fact that board’s members can serve indefinitely in their positions, and suggested restricting their stay to two terms of four years.

“This appointed board is not working because you have members there that have been working 15 or 16 years. What interest do they have in kids now? They keep allowing the same people,” he said.

With such a close race, it can come down to student votes, which Arocho said are as important in New Brunswick as any other resident.

“Students bring a lot to the community,” he said. “They are in the town and when they come here they see what goes on.”

By Giancarlo Chaux

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