When Teach NJ launched its voting initiative in January, the nonpublic school advocacy group had no idea it would be dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and the accompanying uncertainty as to what will happen with elections in the U.S.
“I first thought things might be changing in our elections when I saw Israel creating new polling stations for self-quarantined individuals,” said Benjamin Hutt, the project’s campaign manager.
Israelis went to the polls for the third time in less than a year in March, and set up 16 special polling stations across the country for the more than 5,500 Israelis under quarantine. Wait times built up and voting wasn’t an easy process. Each quarantined voter had to disinfect and apply masks and gloves to cast their ballots into specially lined ballot boxes.
Many towns are already suggesting voters stay safe by using an alternative already in place. Vote-by-mail bills signed into law in 2018, 2019 and January 2020 changed the way vote-by-mail ballots are issued in New Jersey.
All voters are eligible to vote by mail in all elections, and any voter who requested a mail-in ballot from 2016 onward will automatically receive a vote-by-mail ballot for all future elections, until they request otherwise.
“Voting by mail is the absolute best way to ensure every Jewish voter in our community can cast a ballot this upcoming May,” Hutt said, noting the hope that vote-by-mail will increase participation in the Jewish community.
“Even before COVID-19, our voter turnout was nothing to be proud of,” said Hutt. “I’m looking to ensure that changes.”
Jewish voters in Teaneck, for example, average a 38% turnout for state and municipal elections, with only 9% of the 18 to 35-year-old population casting a ballot.
The political climate is often correlated with voter turnout. Statistically, super voters, (those who consistently turn out to vote in elections on the state and federal level), get answers and results more frequently than those who don’t vote.
Teach NJ’s grassroots movement, GOTV (get out the vote), intends to spread awareness of the importance of voting, which could lead to an increased representation at the polls.
Teach NJ is part of the national organization, Teach Coalition, which works in six states with the largest Jewish populations. In 2018, Teach Florida consistently doubled the number of voters who cast ballots in its target precincts compared to 2014. Like Teach Florida, Teach NJ’s initiative has garnered vast support in little time.
“Virtually every rabbi and synagogue in Teaneck we’ve spoken with supports our efforts,” Hutt said.
Building on this support, Teach NJ is seeking community members to volunteer and lead, host conference calls, and ensure their fellow citizens vote.
“The foundation of a successful voter initiative rests on a strong group of civic minded individuals,” Hutt said.