OPINION: ‘Think Inside the Box’: How to Protect Our Votes in South Orange-Maplewood

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Bob Zuckerman is a South Orange Village Trustee.

By now, everyone has likely heard about the crisis our nation is facing with the United States Postal Service. President Trump obviously believes that it’s in his best political interest to interfere with delivery of the mail by installing a new Postmaster General who has been removing mailboxes, confiscating mail sorting machines, and doing everything in his power to ensure that the postal service will not have the ability to count mail-in ballots (or absentee ballots – it’s the same thing) in time to ensure a free and fair election. Of course, COVID-19 will be a major impediment to in-person voting, and the state anticipates that the overwhelming number of voters will cast their vote this November through the use of paper mail-in ballots.

I applaud Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s move to subpoena Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to appear before a special House session on August 24 to get to the bottom of what is exactly going on with our national mail service and to expose the nefarious actions that he has undertaken so far to undermine our post offices’ ability to delay the delivery of mail-in ballots. After all, it’s not just our national election that’s at stake: it’s prescription medicine for our seniors and veterans, it’s important bills and credit card statements, it’s unemployment checks that our citizens use to pay rent and buy groceries that are also under threat.

But what can we here in SOMA do to ensure that our mail-in ballots are properly counted? Sure, we can attend rallies at our post offices, write or call our Congressional delegation, and spotlight the issue on social media – all of which we should do! But there is something more immediate and tangible we can do to make sure that our ballots are delivered and counted by the Essex County Board of Elections: Advocate for our very own ballot dropbox right here in South Orange or Maplewood. During the July primary, the Board of Elections placed only five of these ballot dropboxes around the county and none were in South Orange or Maplewood. That needs to change for the General Election on November 3.

Governor Murphy just signed Executive Order 177 which states: “To the extent possible, each county shall have at least a total of ten (10) secure ballot drop boxes in locations that are readily accessible to the registered voters within the county. To the best of their ability, the county Boards of Elections shall place secure ballot drop boxes based on geographic location and population density to best serve the voters of each county.”

We should make sure that one of those dropboxes gets placed right here in SOMA! We have an activist community here with high voter turnout. In fact, in the November 2016 general election South Orange and Maplewood had a combined 21,925 ballots cast – approximately the same number as Montclair and West Orange, both of which had their own ballot dropbox for the 2020 primary election. We need to create a convenient way for our citizens to vote that does not rely on the postal service and is safer than voting in person during this pandemic. While the County does require that any dropbox have 24/7 surveillance, we have plenty of options in our two towns that can satisfy that requirement, including the South Orange or Maplewood police stations or even Columbia High School.

So, if you agree with me that our two towns deserve our very own ballot dropbox for the general election, then I hope you’ll join me in signing this petition to the Essex County Board of Elections, County Executive, and our Essex County Freeholders that there should be at least one ballot dropbox in either South Orange or Maplewood so that our we can vote conveniently, safely, and with complete assurance that our voice will be heard this November!


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