NEW BRUNSWICK – Less than four percent of the 20,261 registered voters in New Brunswick in the school board election this week, selecting three school board members and approving a $30.66-million tax levy to support the school budget.

A total of 405 people voted for the school budget tax levy and 101 voted against it. Long-time school board member Edward Spencer won a new three-year term on the board with 462 votes, the most received by any of the seven candidates.Each year, New Brunswick votes in school board and political party primary contests in April as well as November general elections. These provide more opportunity than in many other states; while most states across the country will elect governors this year, to coincide with the Congressional mid-term elections, New Jersey voted picked their governor last year.

“We love our elections,” said Brigid Harrison, professor of political science and law at Montclair State University.

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But Harrison says the downside of all this choice is voter fatigue. New Brunswick was one of 13 school districts across the state that hold elections in April.  The vast majority of districts combined their ballots with the November general elections.  The change of dates saved the cost of having a separate election. Combing the school elections with those for municipal, state and federal officials also increased the number of people who cast ballots in school district races.

Schools boards are also the only governing body that must seek direct vote approval for tax levies. Many districts can avoid the vote if they are not seeking an increase of more than two percent in the tax levy. Districts that do vote on the tax levy give voters the opportunity to vent their frustration over ever-increasing taxes, said John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.

“It does end up to be a proxy for people who are angry about taxes, angry about government,” Weingart said.

The historically low turnout gives more power to the few people who vote, and to any groups who support candidates, Harrison said. While the elections are non-partisan, she said, often there are groups lined up in support of, or opposed to, organized teachers’ groups. Either side need only have sway with a smaller number of people to impact the outcome of an election, she said.