This year, only one person – Susan Calrstrom – is officially running for three available seats in the November school board election. This has created an opportunity to have a write-in campaign for the Board Of Education (BOE). Previous board members have been elected to the school board by having their names written in. There have been full-out open as well as unofficial whisper campaigns. Jeof Vita and Scott Nelson both were elected into office under each – respectively.
The difference between an open write-in campaign and simply having one’s name written in at the ballot has to do with the spending of money. According to the current New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (NJELEC) compliance manual, a person who is a write-in is considered to be a candidate and, under certain circumstances, must file reports (link). This manual is important for anyone who plans to run a write-in campaign for the school board. For example, a write-in candidate must adhere to the manual, must label all communications – such as fliers and posters – and file out forms; although some are not required such as an A1 and A2.
If no money is spent, then no forms are required to be filed. If the candidate spends less than $5,100 or less, forms D-1, DX, C-1, and E-1 may be required. If more than that amount is spent on a write-in campaign, then Form R-1 is added to the list of forms that might be necessary.
There is no minimum number of votes needed to get on the school board for a write-in candidate. If there are not enough candidates running for the office, one vote is enough as long as the candidate qualifies and agrees to accept the office.
Usually, with one open seat, if the elected write-in person does not wish to serve, it would be declared an absence of candidate and the school board would fill the seat by appointment. If that is not done within 65 days, then the county superintendent would appoint someone. It does not go to the next highest vote-getter. But under the current circumstance of two open seats, it would most likely go to the two most vote-getters. If either refuses, then it might then go to the school board and possibly the county superintendent, not the person with the third-most votes. The school board may – if it wishes – appoint the third-highest vote-getter but it is not legally bound to that action. In years past, the school board has interviewed for a vacancy which is how current BOE member Christopher Miller first got onto the school board.
If there ends up being a tie between the write-in candidates, a special election would have to be held if more than one of them is eligible and wishes to hold that position.
If elected, it will be important that the successful write-in candidate files the mandatory candidate’s certification before taking the oath of office. Each successful write-in candidate should contact the county clerk to make the appropriate filing, ideally, prior to the county clerk’s certification of results of the election on the Monday after the election is completed.
An important facet of a write-in campaign is the correct spelling of the write-in candidate’s name. According to NJSA 19:16-3(c) “The name of the write-in must be reasonably attributed to the actual individual with no confusion. The final determination rests with the district board of election in the first instance and ultimately with the Superior Court.” Any incorrect spelling might be contested and could be deemed invalid.
Another significant aspect of a write-in campaign is having the write-in candidate’s name entered into the correct and legally valid location on the ballot. When Jeof Vita won his write-in campaign in 2012, he won it with 19 votes. Another resident who also ran a write-in campaign, Phil Woods, actually received 58 write-in votes but since they were not in the legally valid location they did not count. In the end, only six (6) counted for Mr. Woods which were 13 less than the 19 votes counted for Mr. Vita (link).
It is strongly recommended that any write-in candidate read “Becoming A School Board Member: Candidate Kit” (link) and contact the New Jersey School Board Association (NJSBA) to get more information (link), including the qualifications to be a school board member in Roselle Park.
The school board election is on Tuesday, November 6th.