As we approach the end of 2023, Election Day is right around the corner on Tuesday, Nov. 7. Every other odd-numbered year, the election falls between presidential and gubernatorial election years. Because of the lack of high-profile political campaigning in these off-years, people are usually less civically engaged and as a result, less likely to vote.
Many people believe voting in off-year elections is less important because they are not voting a president or governor into office, but this could not be farther from the truth. In reality, voting during off-years is still critical. Local elections have a more direct impact on community issues and party dynamics in our area than national elections, so if you were thinking about voting, now is the time to do it.
In 2023, numerous seats are up for election in the New Jersey General Assembly and State Senate, as well as local elections with candidates running for school boards and municipal government like town councils. These politicians have a huge effect on our day-to-day lives, controlling things like the taxes we pay, local infrastructure, and what programs receive and lose funding in our towns.
Alexandra Cajac, a sophomore economics major, agrees that a larger voter turnout contributes to a more democratic ideal.
“One person [supporting a cause by voting] turns into many people,” Cajsc said. “If you choose to not say anything, and then a bunch of people choose to not share their opinion, [and] it eliminates a bunch of people.”
Despite the fact that off-year elections have the largest impact on our day-to-day lives, they see much less voter turnout than major election years. According to the NJ Department of Elections, in 2019, the last off-year between presidential and gubernatorial elections, 27% of registered voters in New Jersey cast ballots – up from 22% in 2015. Compared to 72% during the presidential election in 2020, which saw the greatest voter turnout in a century, the difference is clear.
Warren Rigby, graduate coordinator of Montclair State University’s Office of Civic & Voter Engagement, focuses on voter registration and civic awareness on campus. He explained the reasoning for the lack of turnout.
“I think a big reason for [off-year elections having lower voter turnout than presidential election years] is that a lot of students don’t necessarily realize that local and state elections actually have more of an effect on them as an individual than national elections,” Rigby said. “Those [politicians] are the individuals that are determining key aspects that affect us directly as students.”
Another reason to vote in local elections, Rigby emphasizes, is to give a voice to the voiceless.
“[Voting even in election off-years is] important because you’re not just representing yourself, you’re also representing your community,” Rigby said. “You’re representing those individuals that may not have the authority or the ability to vote themselves. If you live in a heavily populated area where there might be more immigrants, you as a citizen can leverage your voice for those individuals that don’t necessarily feel like they have that voice.”
An essential part of maintaining a well-informed and civically engaged student body, Rigby says, is keeping his department active on campus.
“We’ve committed to about one tabling a week,” Rigby said. “One of the challenges we see with students, especially in an institution with a population of over 22,000 students, [is] you can’t expect them to come to you. You have to go to them, meet them where they’re at sometimes. So we’ve really been making sure that we’re taking those pivotal opportunities to be front and center, finding places to do tabling in University Hall, the Student Center lobby, the Quad, and just being there where they’re gonna be, rather than necessarily expecting them to come to us.”
Sophia Andraus, a freshman fashion design & merchandising major, thinks Montclair State’s administration is helpful in keeping the student body informed on local elections.
“I live in Dinallo, and I do see them post on our bulletin boards saying, ‘this time to vote,’ and ‘here’s how you can register,’ so I do think our school definitely helps promote all that stuff… even if you don’t know much about it, it’s good to just put in a vote because sometimes it can help the rest of society.”
For more information on voting and the 2023 election, check out the Voter Information Portal on the New Jersey Department of Elections website.