By Araceli Gonzalez
Three candidates running to bring positive changes to New Brunswick’s school board are speaking out against an outrageous plan to eliminate six of the city’s voting locations for the upcoming election.
Candidates Linda Stork, Jenifer Garcia, and Matt Rivera mobilized after learning that New Brunswick’s City Clerk, Leslie Zeledón, had agreed to cut nearly half of the voting locations normally in use.
The news came with just over one month until the April 20 election, and would affect thousands of residents. Unlike last year’s election, mail-in ballots will not be automatically sent to all voters.
If the plan is approved, some citizens may have to walk more than 1.5 miles to cast their ballots on Election Day, due to the closure of the popular location at the New Brunswick Housing Authority headquarters.
“The goal should be to facilitate voter participation, not minimize it,” said Rivera, an Air National Guard Staff Sgt. who also has experience working at the Middlesex County Clerk’s Office during the 2020 general election, when ballots were automatically mailed to every active voter.
However, under the Governor’s Executive Order 216, most voters will not receive a mail-in ballot this year.
The Students First team is concerned about the impact the elimination of voting locations will have on low-income communities and communities of color, and on overall turnout in the election.
“It just adds extra hassle to the process, which is what voter suppression does, It doesn’t make it impossible to vote, it just makes it more difficult to vote.” said Stork, a retired teacher who served New Brunswick for more than three decades. “
The candidates also question why the locations that the city wants to eliminate are among the most convenient voting places.
“We do have to keep in mind that Roosevelt School, the Hungarian Heritage Center, the Senior Center, and the Labor Education Center, those are areas that are easy to access,” said Garcia, a lifelong resident who graduated from New Brunswick schools and works as a community organizer.
Other city residents joined the candidates in condemning the proposal at the March 17 New Brunswick City Council meeting, where no good reason was given for the drastic move.
City officials brushed off questions about the rationale, blaming the closures on the pandemic.
“If you’re trying to social distance, common sense would say don’t have more people going to less places. The more places you have open, the more room people would have,” said Stork. “So what was the real reason that we couldn’t have all the polling places already open?”
The proposal has not been formally approved by the Board of Elections, which is scheduled to meet on April 1.
The full list of polling places that would be eliminated is as follows:
- NB Housing Authority office – 7 Van Dyke Avenue
- Labor Education Center – 50 Labor Center Way
- Roosevelt School – 83 Livingston Av.
- Hungarian Heritage Center – 300 Somerset St.
- Providence Square – 78 Livingston Av.
- NB Senior Center – 81 Huntington St.
Of all fourteen voting locations normally open, the list of closures includes the fourth most popular polling place: the New Brunswick Senior Center.
The move will also leave only one location, a downtown church, as the sole site in the entire Fifth Ward. The Second and Sixth Wards will also be cut down to just one location each.
In many cases, communities of color and low-income residents are more likely to be impacted by the closures due to the high costs of transportation and the ugly history of segregation and discrimination in housing.
The Students First team calls on the City Clerk and Board of Elections to reconsider and restore all of New Brunswick’s voting locations, and requests that their opponents join them in this call.