Relocation of Polling Sites from West Orange Schools Still a Work in Progress


WEST ORANGE, NJ - The issue of relocating polling sites out of West Orange Public Schools remains a work in progress as the township heads into municipal elections on November 4.

In November 2013, the West Orange Township Council approved Ordinance 2392-13 moving May General Elections to November to establish November as the General Election Day for the Township's Nonpartisan Municipal Elections. (In January of 2012, the Board of Education voted to moved their April elections to November as well.)

Council President Susan McCartney responded to growing concerns about safety and security at school polling sites by forming an Ad Hoc committee in July, 2013 to investigate alternative locations. On May 30, 2014 a letter went out to 24 potential alternative sites citing three reasons to move the municipal elections to November: to improve voter turnout; to promote efficiency and cost savings in the administration of one municipal election instead of the two currently budgeted at $80,000; and to support the growing concern to reduce school vulnerability.

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Councilwoman McCartney told TAP into West Orange, that of the 24 sites, five responded positively: Pleasantdale Presbyterian Church; Essex County Country Club;  West Orange First Aid Squad; B'Nai Shalom, and Marriott Residence Inn.

The new Superintendent of West Orange Schools, Jeffrey Rutzky, met with McCartney over the summer. "I met with Rutzky over the summer to talk about using the trailers at Gregory instead of the cafeteria space for voting," said McCartney. 

"He was quite encouraging," she noted.                    

Rutzky told TAP into West Orange that he fully supported the effort to move polling sites out of the public schools, saying, "There should not be voting inside school buildings. There are many facilities in West Orange that qualify as voting/polling places."

The township, however, must receive approval for the new sites from the Essex County Clerk's office, and that is not expected to happen by November.

Debbie Korczukowski, a St. Cloud parent, and Melissa Evans, a Gregory parent, have lobbied for the change since 2013 with an online petition and by attending Board of Education and township council meetings. They remain resolute in their opposition to polling sites in the schools.

"People know it’s not an impossible task. Several areas of NJ have already relocated their voting; at least three Gloucester County communities: Glassboro, Monroe and Woodbury; Cherry Hill, Gibbsboro and Haddon Township in Camden County; and Delran and Medford Lakes in Burlington County, already made the necessary changes. The list of local (and national) communities relocating their polling sites goes on and I am trying to remain optimistic that West Orange will eventually be on that list," said Korczukowski.

In her letter to potential polling locations, McCartney also made note that "Livingston, Fairfield, Chatham, and Glen Ridge" were part of a movement of Northern New Jersey towns relocating their sites.

"I am proud and pleased to think of West Orange as one of these front runners," McCartney said in the letter.  

"Yes, we had police protection for the November 2013 elections and extra school aides for the June 2014 elections paid for by the school board," said Melissa Evans, "but that is not enough and should not be a topic we have to ask for with each election. Protecting our children should not be an afterthought. Voting needs to be located else where besides the schools and until that is achieved police protection PERIOD."

TAP Into West Orange reached out to Mayor Parisi about stationing West Orange Police officers at the schools on November 4. "We have not made any decisions yet," he said.

In the meantime, both Korczukowski and Evans said they will be keeping their children home from school on November 4.

"Do they all really think West Orange is immune to the increased risk of violence within schools that is happening nationwide?" asked Korczukowski.

"I will be keeping my child home from school. If the town, county, or school will not protect her, I will. I encourage other parents to do the same. Perhaps that will help push this movement," said Evans.

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