Voters in Perth Amboy will be asked whether to switch from nonpartisan to partisan elections in a ballot question on November’s general election ballot, in a move that would strengthen Mayor Helmin Caba and create a virtual dictatorship for the City by the Bay.
Citizens in the waterfront city will be asked whether they want to exclude the majority of registered voters from having effective participation in city elections by ending the decades-long practice of holding nonpartisan contests for municipal government offices.
The question on the ballot asks whether the city’s charter, governed by the mayor-council form of government under the Faulkner Act, should be amended to change city elections from a regular municipal election held in November to partisan general elections.
If the question is rejected, the election process will remain unchanged.
Partisan elections will probably erode public trust in government because voters may feel that the system is rigged in favor of Caba’s Democratic Party, but since those citizens would encounter significant disadvantages if they try to do anything about it, the political establishment expects to be insulated from public accountability.
If the ballot question is approved, more than 20,000 residents would effectively lose the power to influence local offices.
Perth Amboy, a port city located on the south bank of the Raritan Bay, across from Staten Island, New York, is the oldest city in Middlesex County and was once the capital of the Province of New Jersey.
A diverse city with a population of over 50,000 people, Perth Amboy is home to a variety of industries, including manufacturing, shipping, and retail.
Partisan elections may discourage some people from voting, especially those who do not identify with either major party. This can lead to a less representative government.
The elections would still be held in November, but the winning candidates would be selected in June, in a primary election.
Candidates for municipal office would appear on the ballot in the same column as the other nominees of their political party.
Perth Amboy is a predominantly Democratic community. While it is conceivable for an independent or Republican to compete, contenders seeking to be elected as mayor or to the city council with those labels are all but certain to lose.
Candidates for municipal office would encounter new disadvantages on the ballot in the primary election, as party bosses would be able to place their preferred choices alongside other nominees of their political machine, relegating honest, independent-minded or oppositional contenders to what has been described as ‘ballot Siberia’—a spot on where voters could have a hard time even finding their names.
The change would also require prospective candidates to file petitions in March, about ten weeks in advance of the primary election.
In addition to an earlier filing deadline, the change would have the practical effect of excluding most voters from casting a consequential ballot.
New Jersey candidates have to file petitions to run in a primary election on the 64th day before the primary election while those running in a non-partisan November election have to file petitions at least 47 days before voters go to the polls.
For example, the 2024 primary election in New Jersey will be held on June 4, 2024. Therefore, a candidate who wants to run for mayor against Caba must file petitions by March 27, 2024.
Under the current system, a candidate who wants to challenge Caba could file petitions as late as September 23, 2024.
Prospective school board members would still file petitions by the September deadline but aspirants for mayor and council would need to plan their campaigns months in advance.
If Caba committed some grievous offense between March 27, 2024, and September 23, 2024, under the current system, he could be held accountable but if the change goes through, for all practical purposes citizens would need to wait another four years.
For years Perth Amboy candidates for mayor and City Council have run under slogans or banners, rather than as members of a political party.
“The ballot question to change Perth Amboy’s elections from nonpartisan to partisan was initiated by a strong desire among residents for a more partisan electoral process,” said Lisett Lebron, Mayor Helmin Caba’s chief of staff.
“The administration and council recognize the importance of allowing residents to have the final say on this matter, and this ballot question ensures that the decision ultimately rests with the voters of Perth Amboy,” said Lebron. “It’s a testament to the democratic process that residents will have the opportunity to shape the future of their local elections through their votes.”
Partisan elections often limit the number of choices available to voters. In some cases, there may be only a single candidate from each major party running for office. This means that voters have no real choice and are forced to vote for a candidate they may not support.
Partisan elections can contribute to political polarization, as voters become more divided along party lines and extreme factions arise within the parties themselves. This can make it difficult for elected officials to work together and compromise, as the House of Representatives in demonstrating its failure to select a Speaker, which has consequently crippled the United States government.