It’s slow at the polls in Montclair’s first-ever, historic school board election
Turnout at Montclair polling places seemed slow Tuesday, according to several of the people taking part in the township's first ever school board election.
As of Tuesday, the Essex County Board of Elections reported it had received 958 mail-in votes. Those don't include any that may arrive in the mail Tuesday or later. Voters could return mail-in ballots through the mail as late as Tuesday, or drop them off at a ballot box at the Montclair Municipal Building, 205 Claremont Ave., until 8 p.m.
By contrast, more than 3,400 people voted with mail-in ballots in November, in the referendum to decide whether Montclair, going forward, would have an elected school board. Voters overwhelmingly decided in that referendum to convert Montclair from a Type I school district with a mayor-appointed board of seven members to a Type II district with an elected board of nine members. Tuesday's election is for the two newly created seats.
Over a half-hour period Tuesday morning, no one was seen walking in and out of the George Inness Annex of Montclair High School, where voters in Ward 2 were assigned to cast their ballots. There were few people at several other sites visited by Montclair Local reporters as well.
Wrong polling locations had been listed on sample ballots for voters in 11 of Montclair's 35 voting districts. Linda Von Nessi, clerk of the Essex County Board of Elections, told Montclair Local Tuesday it appears information was pulled from the wrong module in a statewide voter registration system, listing old polling locations for addresses.
"As soon as we became aware of this error, postcards were sent by first-class mail advising the voters of the [correct] location to cast their ballot," she said by email.
Signs were also posted on the doors of old sites directing voters to new locations.
A poll worker at Glenfield School, where some Ward 4 voters were assigned, said as of mid-Tuesday morning only nine people had come by to vote. She said just one was at the wrong polling location, and was redirected to the right spot.
Poll workers at other locations reported a similarly slow start to the day.
"Please know that this office works diligently to avoid error," Von Nessi said. "Our goal is to never disenfranchise a voter. I assure you ... that every step possible was taken and I am confident that no voter lost their precious vote on election day."
Councilman Bob Russo, an adjunct political science professor at Montclair State University, said getting voters clear and correct voting information "is becoming a problem everywhere in the USA, not just the 'red states,' that intentionally work to confuse and suppress voters."
But he said in this case, "it is just honest miscommunication and mistakes, and technology doesn’t make it any easier."
Yvonne Bouknight and Jeannette Williams, two of the candidates, told Montclair Local late last week they’d spoken to voters who hadn’t yet received sample ballots, though they didn’t know if some of the ballots may have arrived since those conversations. Community members have also reached out to the township about missing mail-in ballots, Township Communications Director Katya Wowk said Monday.
Von Nessi said sample ballots were sent to every voter. She said she wasn't aware of any issues with mail-in ballots being sent to voters late.
She also said she wasn't aware of any issues with voting machines or problems with poll workers as of mid-day Tuesday.
Residents should contact the Essex County Clerk's Office if they have not received requested vote-by-mail ballots, Wowk said. The clerk's office can be reached at 973-621-4921.
Montclair Local will be posting results to MontclairLocal.news as they become available after 8 p.m. Tuesday evening.
Corrected polling locations:
- Ward 1, District 2 was listed at the fire house at 588 Valley Road. The accurate location is Bradford School, 87 Mount Hebron Road.
- Ward 1, Districts 1, 3 and 6 were listed at Mt. Hebron Middle School, 173 Lorraine Ave. The accurate location is Buzz Aldrin Middle School, 173 Bellevue Ave.
- Ward 2, District 2 was listed at Montclair High School, 100 Chestnut St. The accurate location is the George Innes Annes, 141 Park St.
- Ward 2, District 7 was listed at Renaissance at Rand School, 176 North Fullerton Ave. The accurate location is the George Innes Annes of Montclair High School, 141 Park St.
- Ward 3, Districts 2, 3 and 5 were listed at the United Way Building, 60 South Fullerton Ave. The accurate location is the Charles H. Bullock School, 55 Washington St.
- Ward 3, District 4 was listed at the Cedar Avenue fire house, 151 Harrison Ave. The accurate location is Nishuane School, 36 Cedar Ave.
- Ward 3, District 6 was listed at the Walnut Street fire house, 95 Walnut St. The accurate location is the Montclair Township Municipal Building, 205 Claremont Ave.
— Talia Wiener, Diego Jesus Bartesaghi Mena and Louis C. Hochman