Even small victories can have a big impact.
Last November marked the first time that school board candidates ran for office in the General Election alongside candidates for municipal, county and federal positions. As could be expected, a change of such magnitude—over 80 percent of school boards opted to move their elections to November—was not without its challenges. One of the most disturbing was the ballot design in some counties, which gave voters the impression that school board candidates were aligned with the political parties.
There was even concern that ballot construction influenced the outcome of school board elections.
Recently, school boards in Burlington County chalked up a small, but significant victory when the county clerk announced a new design of the November election ballot. The 2013 Burlington County ballot should reflect the non-partisan nature of school board candidacy.
This change did not occur by itself. It resulted from local school board members—and your state Association—speaking up on the issue.
After the 2012 General Election, I contacted the Constitutional Officers Association of New Jersey, which represents the state’s county clerks, and urged the design of ballots that clearly distinguished board of education candidates from those for other offices.
State law requires that school board candidates appear on the ballot without party affiliation. As I said in a previous Reflections column, while the ballot construction might have complied with the letter of the law, it did not reflect the spirit of the law. To be fair, the problem was not universal. Some counties had ballots that clearly set the non-partisan school board candidates apart from those for other offices.
Nonetheless, our work is still cut out for us.
Other adjustments to the November school election process are needed, including moving the candidacy deadline from the first Tuesday in June to a date closer to the General Election.
The ballot design issue has not been settled everywhere. In at least one other county where ballot construction raised concern in 2012, the county clerk’s office indicated that it will not make alterations. We have communicated our strong opposition to the position taken by the election official.
NJSBA takes the non-partisan nature of school boards seriously. We want election officials to understand school boards’ commitment to that principle. In Burlington County they do, and we commend the county clerk and his staff for redesigning the election ballot.
It is a small victory, but one that will help safeguard a cherished principle.
These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at [email protected].