Ridgewood recently held its first regularly scheduled Village Council elections since voting overwhelmingly in 2020 to move our local elections from the spring to November. The two biggest reasons for the move were higher voter turnout and lower election-related expenses. How did that pan out in reality?
An estimated 7,441 votes were cast in the November 2022 Village Council election.1 In the November 2021 special election for an unexpired Village Council term, there were 7,035 votes cast, and there were 12,897 votes cast in the One Village One Vote referendum question in November 2020. By comparison, there were fewer than 4,500 votes cast, on average, in off-cycle May Council elections going back to 2010. (Off-cycle April Board of Ed elections saw only around 3,500 votes cast, on average.) And the November elections are funded by Bergen County, so Ridgewood saved tens of thousands of dollars.
In short, November elections allow more of our community to be heard, and they save money. What a win for Ridgewood!
The Bergen County Clerk’s Office does not release the unique number of ballots cast for specific down-ballot election lines. This figure, 7,441 votes, is our best estimate. It is the sum of the votes received by the highest vote-getter (Evan Weitz, 4,709) and the lowest vote-getter (Jim Van Goor, 2,732).
Yesterday, a three-judge appeals court panel unanimously affirmed the trial court’s September 2, 2020 ruling that ordered One Village One Vote’s election consolidation question to be placed on the November ballot in Ridgewood. The panel of Appellate Division judges refused to void the results of the election and reiterated the trial judge’s finding that the Village Clerk, in trying to keep this issue off the ballot, violated the New Jersey Civil Rights Act. As a reminder, this appeal arose from the Village’s appeal attempting to overturn a previous trial court ruling as well as the overwhelmingly approved election consolidation question.
You can read the complete ruling here. However, below are a few selected highlights that we believe capture key points within the opinion:
“Ridgewood voters…were free to vote against the initiative. There was no statutory requirement that two separate questions had to be placed on the ballot.”
“…we conclude that the use of a single question on the ballot did not disenfranchise voters, who were clearly informed that voting in favor of the election date change would affect both the BOE election and the Council election…. We are satisfied that the result of the election was not affected by using a single question. ‘Therefore, the expressed will of the [Ridgewood] electorate will not be disturbed.'”
“…it would be improper for this court to overturn the voters’ mandate because the number of signatures on the petition was insufficient… The full and free expression of the popular will was to adopt the initiative and consolidate the elections.“
“By not informing plaintiffs until much later, and refusing to accept the initiative petition, defendant essentially created a dead end for plaintiffs…“
“…when municipality moves the BOE election to November, voters no longer approve the general budget, but may vote on the expenditure of additional amounts that exceed the two percent cap. Defendant’s… role is not to take sides on the public policy implications of initiative petitions…. Defendant’s perception of the advantages or disadvantages of moving the BOE election are not relevant to performing those duties.”
We are saddened that what should have been a cooperative democratic process between concerned citizens and their local government instead was forced into the courts at unnecessary taxpayer expense. Judge Geiger, speaking for the panel, reminded us that “The Faulkner Act was adopted in order to encourage public participation in municipal affairs in the face of normal apathy and lethargy in such matters.” The Village Council majority’s efforts to prevent this question from even appearing on a ballot, and then on appeal to void the results of the election that overwhelmingly approved the question (by nearly a 20-point margin), go well beyond “normal apathy and lethargy” into outright obstructionism at the expense of the taxpayers.
We call upon the Village Council to drop any further litigation, to acknowledge the Village’s mishandling of this situation, and to productively work with the community to ensure our November local elections are a success for all of Ridgewood. It is time for us to all move on, together.
Earlier this year in Washington, DC, the will of the nation’s voters was respected. Here in Ridgewood, the opposite is occurring – our Village Council is aggressively seeking to overturn the voters’ decision to consolidate our local elections. The measure passed by an overwhelming majority, yet the Village Council continues to ask the NJ courts to void the results.
This week, our attorney submitted a response to the Council’s most recent legal appeal. We remain appalled that our Council is trying to quash the will of the voters, and doing so at ever increasing taxpayer expense.
The League of Women Voters of Ridgewood agrees and “urges the Ridgewood Village Council to respect the vote and to cease litigating, which could overturn the vote.”
Ridgewood, now is the time for us to remind our Village Council that democracy is strong here. Our votes matter. Please contact the Council and demand that they abandon their appeal. Insist that they honor the public vote, save taxpayers additional expense, and preserve democracy by dropping the appeal.