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No Small Stuff (cont.): As New Jersey Special Election Heats Up, County Seeks Funding to Keep Cool

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[Image courtesy of wikimedia]

New Jersey's twin elections this fall - a special U.S. Senate election and the regular state general election - are already generating controversy as members of the legislature and many counties argue that they represent a waste of taxpayer dollars.

But in one Garden State town, an official wants relief from the heat - not the figurative political heat surrounding the two elections, but the literal heat of summer which will be a factor in next month's special primary. The Montclair (NJ) Patch has the details:

Keeping polling places cool has Montclair's Deputy Mayor Bob Russo fired up.

The state has created an "unfunded mandate" by telling municipalities they must provide air-conditioning or fans for the August special primary election, Russo said at this week's council meeting.

The August 13 special primary and Oct. 16 special election were called to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant with the recent death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D).

Montclair Municipal Clerk Linda Wanat told the board the town would not be reimbursed for the cost of fans, which were considered "equipment" by the state. Wanat calculated 26 fans would be needed at an estimated cost of $800. The cost for paying poll workers and overtime costs would be recovered, she said.

An August election is "unprecedented," Wanat said, and poll workers, many who are senior citizens, spend a long day at polling places.

Russo agreed it would be an imposition to have them work without the fans, but said the town should be reimbursed for any and all costs.

While the figure in question is somewhat small, the underlying issue for Montclair and other Garden State towns is much larger. Their position - echoed by election offices across the country in different contexts - is that when the state schedules a special election, the costs associated with that special election should be borne by the state and not passed on to localities and their taxpayers. This is especially important given the challenges involved in siting and staffing special elections, not to mention the challenges of holding elections on unusual dates - which includes heat in the summer and snow in the winter.

This is yet another illustration of the concept of "no small stuff" in elections - the way through which small decisions about administering elections quickly add up to big issues. Once debates like this get started in a state and the rhetoric heats up, it's unlikely that a fan will be enough to cool things down.

Stay tuned ...

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