2023 New Jersey Local Referendums
On November 7, 2023, the General Election was held in all 40 legislative districts, marking the first time the full State Legislature has been on the ballot with redrawn districts since the 2020 census. In addition to voting for the 120 seats in the State Legislature, local ballot referendums included municipal open space, taxes, cannabis, and school funding. A closer look into the election results depicts a rising trend in voting patterns where the voter turnout slightly exceeded 27%, higher than in the previous election. The League has taken a deeper dive into the 2023 results to briefly provide further insight into what they signify for New Jersey’s municipalities.
Voter turnout through mail-in and physical voting remained low throughout the state, with no county hitting the 40% mark. Hunterdon County had the highest turnout, with 38% of voters heading to the polls, whereas the lowest voter turnout was in Essex County at 17%. The 2023 local referendum tackled various issues with mixed results. The issues the locals voted on included school funding, cannabis, taxes, and open space.
School Boards and funding
In addition to the municipal queries, Evesham’s ballot contained two school board questions—the first involved tuition-free, full-day kindergarten. The second question asked about the school district raising $190,000 to provide mental health services for elementary and middle-school students in the 2023-24 school year; both questions were approved.
Aberdeen’s voters approved raising an additional $2,438,371 for General Funds in the 2023-2024 School Year to provide for recurring additional security costs. River Vale Board of Education’s effort to raise $230,000 for armed security guards passed with 55% voting “Yes” and 46% voting “No.” Robbinsville voters were asked to decide whether or not to raise school taxes by $4.8 million to maintain a variety of school programs along with staff-related needs. The voters rejected the proposition with 2,188 votes opposed and 1,828 in favor.
Monmouth County’s Englishtown (4,335 votes against and 3,307 in support) and Matawan (4,030 votes against and 1,942 in support) voted down proposed changes for educational development that would subsequently increase taxes.
Several towns listed Open Space passages on their ballot – all of which were approved and would be collected by a special tax. Voters in Robbinsville Township were asked to decide on two different matters: a municipal question and a school question -- each that would raise taxes in their community. The voters were presented with the
following question to vote on concerning the open space in the state:
Voters in the Township of Robbinsville voted to pass the Open Space passage by a margin of 2,208 to 1,833. In addition to Robbinsville, similar questions were asked in the following towns:
Borough of Carlstadt (Bergen County): voters approved the Municipal Open Space Trust Fund, 57% to 43%. The funds will be collected under special municipal tax, with proceeds used for recreation, conservation, or historic preservation purposes as permitted by law.
Township of Hackensack (Bergen County): voters approved with 81% in the affirmative. The town also approved open Space funding and authorized the city to collect a dedicated tax in the amount of no greater than one cent per $100 of assessed value. Funds would then be deposited into the Municipal Open Space, Recreation, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund to be used only for the purposes set forth in the referendum, including debt service. Approval would also enhance programs headed by the city.
Borough of Oakland (Bergen County) voters approved a binding question regarding an Open Space Trust Fund, following suit with its neighboring cities, Hackensack, and Carlstadt.
Franklin Lakes approved an Open Space referendum, allowing voters to decide on the funding source during the November election, which the majority were against.
The city of Bridgeton (Cumberland County) made referendum querying the authorization to establish a Municipal Open Space and Recreation Trust Fund was also highly favored.
Verona (Essex County) voters approved an Open Space ballot question. A yes vote approved the steps taken to amend the Municipal Open Space, Recreation and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund to increase the rate of the annual levy from the current maximum of two (2) cents per$100 per assessed valuation to three (3) cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
The township of Howell (Monmouth County) queried about establishing an annual levy for the Municipal Open Space Trust Fund, which voters also accepted.
Springfield Township voters were asked if the township should continue its Open Space; 665 individuals supported the continuation of the municipal’s open space, and 174 people voted against it.
In Monmouth County, the Colts Neck Township referendum proposed to increase the dedicated farmland, open space, and historic preservation tax from the current $0.012 to $0.025 per $100 of assessed valuation, which was approved. A margin of 676 voters supported the proposal, while 530 were against it.
In 2020, after recreational cannabis was legalized, it became a popular marketed item in the spring of 2023. However, very few questions were asked regarding cannabis during the General Election late last year. While New Jersey continues to move or change the laws on Cannabis, towns continue to grapple with licenses and dispensary businesses.
Rutherford and Oakland had non-binding questions about cannabis, in which voters of both towns were not in favor. Likewise, South River also voted down a cannabis referendum where a "yes" vote for the proposal meant that the Borough would issue licenses for businesses to engage in the retail sale of cannabis items for adult recreational use.
Constituents cast their votes in Burlington County, approving all municipal ballot questions:
(LOSAP) Awards Program
With satisfactory results, Township of Hainesport voters were asked if the township should establish a Length of Service (LOSAP) awards program for volunteer emergency responders; 1565 voters voted in support, whereas 274 citizens were against it.
Land Use Board
Township of Maple Shade voters were asked if the township’s code should be amended to create a joint land use board. Voters favored the amendment, with 1,247 individuals supporting it and 1,070 voting against it.
Township of Moorestown voters were asked if they would be supportive of rescinding a 1959 law to allow Moorestown Mall to bring in more “family-friendly entertainment,” including a full bar for visitors over the age of 21. The voters agreed, with 3,762 individuals supporting rescinding the law and 1,834 people voting against it.
Township of Mount Holly voters were asked if the township’s charter should be amended to establish nonpartisan council elections where candidates would not be identified by party affiliation. 756 voters voted in support of the amendment, whereas 641 opposed it.
Lawrence Township (Cumberland) ballot asked whether constituents favored the issuance of a Plenary Retail Distribution Liquor License to sell liquor – Members opposed the issuance of the retail distribution liquor license, with 275 members voting in support and 308 individuals voting against it.
The 2023 New Jersey General Election results presented an intricate tapestry of voter behavior and engagement. The New Jersey elections gave a voice to voters in different counties and municipalities who had to vote on many issues affecting them. Based on the results of the election, residents adopted many changes and other passages to change legislation remain challenging. However, as a recap, voters successfully adopted the need to add a levy to help maintain open spaces across the state. Some agreed to expand educational funds in most municipalities to broaden and create equity within the education sector, while others voted considering the increase of taxes.
Voter participation is undoubtedly essential, as the latest election results will prove to change the communities. As a neutral party, the League supports all leaders in local government, understanding the importance of bringing about legislative changes that impact people's lives as it encourages them to participate in democratic exercises.
Contact: Ciara Bradley, Research Associate, CBradley@njlm.org or 609-695-3481, x128.