This past Tuesday, June 7, was the Primary Election in New Jersey. Washington Township residents over the age of 18 were given the privilege to push a button and have a say in who guided their government, from the local committee to their county freeholders, state senators and assemblyman.
And nearly nine out of 10 of us chose not to.
When you go to vote in Washington Township, there are a few workers in the building in which you vote that take your name, assist you if help is needed, make small talk about the weather or goings on in town. They arrive at their polling station at 5:30 a.m. and leave shortly after polls close at 8 p.m. It’s a long day for them.
But, in this particular election, there wasn’t much chatter. There wasn’t much help needed, and a 14-hour day passed by like tumbleweed in the desert for these workers, who saw one of the worst turnouts in recent memory.
From about 7:30 to 9:15 p.m. on Tuesday, I spent my time at the municipal building, waiting for the polls to close and finding out . Staffers from each of the polling centers came in to drop off the official results to the township clerk, and I overheard many of them say the same thing.
“This was one of the worst turnouts I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been doing this for years,” one woman said.
“Maybe there wasn’t enough hype, enough dirt, to get people listening and out to vote,” another worker said, referring to the differences between this year’s and other elections laced with mudslinging.
Of Washington Township’s 18,533-member population, 12,742 are registered voters, according to the Morris County Clerk’s Office. From that number, just 1,487 either hit the polls on Tuesday or sent in an absentee ballot.
That’s an 11.67 percent showing. If it was baseball, Washington Township would be batting .117, a number that sends you straight back to single-A ball for at least a month. Slightly more than one in every 10 registered voters took five minutes out of their day to choose who leads their government.
That number, quite frankly, is appalling. I’m not writing this piece to get all ‘it’s your civic duty’ or anything like that. That’s not it at all. But let’s take a look at a couple more numbers from the election so you can see where I’m headed with this.
At the local level, Republicans Tracy Tobin and Chris Henwood squared off for what will be a vacant seat on the Washington Township Committee. Tobin won the election by a margin of 43 votes.
I’ve seen 43 people fly in and out of Long Valley’s Dunkin’ Donuts in mere minutes some mornings. If you’ve got a Facebook account, chances are at least 43 of your friends are from Washington Township. More than 43 people have no problems hanging around the two bars at the Brew Pub on most Friday nights.
What I’m trying to say is, that’s a very tiny margin of victory. And when you compare it to the amount of registered Republicans in town (5,290), it’s even smaller than you think.
Let’s go one step further here. All signs are pointing to Morris County Freeholder Margaret Nordstrom losing her race against newcomer William Lyon from Montville, pending a possible recount. Nordstrom, a veteran Freeholder and former Washington Township mayor, had a strong showing in her hometown.
The Freeholder more than doubled her opponent’s vote total in Washington Township, garnering 851 nods to Lyon’s 412. But remember, the freeholder race was county wide. And if nothing changes, Nordstrom will have lost by 10 votes out of a total of 24,550 punched ballots.
You have more people waiting in the bathroom line at your house on Super Bowl Sunday during halftime. I tried explaining what 43 votes looks like. It’s not hard to imagine what 10 people can do.
What I’m trying to say is this; voter turnout was abysmal on Tuesday, both in Washington Township and across Morris County, and it’s a complete shame. I’m not going to tell you whom I voted for on any level, and I’m not trying to say the losers of the primary election got the raw end. I’m just saying that we, as residents, didn’t hold up our end of the deal.
This country gives its citizens the privilege to choose government officials. You don’t like someone in office? Vote for the challenger. You don’t like what a challenger has to say on a topic? Support the other guy. The point is, we have a choice, whereas so many other people on this earth don’t. And we made the choice not to choose.
As one poll worker said to me at the end of the grueling day, “I don’t want to hear it. If you didn’t come out to vote, I don’t want to hear you complain about what happens in the future with your government. You had your chance.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.