By ROBIN WOODS
for Montclair Local
“I do not consider you an American unless you vote,” was the blunt opening of comments by Essex County Clerk Christopher J. Durkin at an event hosted by the League of Women Voters on Saturday.
The LWV of the Montclair area held the conversation with the county clerk at the Montclair Municipal Building with a focus on recent concerns about voter security and voter suppression.
The League’s Education Director Jeanette Williams introduced Durkin and moderated the 90-minute session.
Township Clerk Linda Wanat and Mayor Robert Jackson were in attendance, along with League members and the public. Durkin began the discussion by saying, “I do not consider you an American unless you vote. Don’t only vote — run for office. Do more and be more.” He reminded audience members that initially, only white, male, Protestant landowners could vote, until the 15th Amendment did away with the race requirement. “It took two lifetimes for black males and three lifetimes for women to vote, less than 100 years ago in 1920.”
Durkin, who was re-elected to his third term in 2015, graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in political science. He attained a master’s degree in human resource, training & development from Seton Hall University and completed the County Election Official Training Program conducted by the Edward J. Bloustein School of Public Policy at Rutgers University.
When asked about voter turnout, he said, “The 2008 election turnout was the largest in Essex County history. Even in 2000 after Hurricane Sandy, only 10 percent fewer votes were cast.”
Freeholder Brendan Gill reminded Durkin that voting by mail might be considered voter suppression, since one must affix a stamp to return the ballot; which could be considered a poll tax. As a result of this, all ballots have return postage on them in advance.
The 2000 Bush/Gore Presidential election brought to light issues with butterfly ballots and counting methods. Help America Vote Act (HAVA) assists voters, provides security for counting paper ballots and voting machines. Each Secretary of State would certify voting methods for each election. HAVA calls for newly registered voters to provide the last four digits of their Social Security number, or show a driver’s license. Twelve other types of ID would be accepted if necessary. This would only be required the first time they voted. Homeland Security is taking over the electoral security process and checking statewide systems.
In 2006, New Jersey began using the Sequoia 123 Voting Machine, which provides no paper trail. State Senator Nia H. Gill is sponsoring the Democracy Act, which allows for 15 days of early voting by paper in New Jersey, and the purchase of new voting machines with a paper trail. Durkin said it would be possible to have a Full Face Ballot with paper backup. There is no central location for the 700 voting machines in Essex County, covering 551 voting districts.
When questioned about why we just can’t switch to online voting, Durkin responded, “Online voting is further off in the future — a long way off,” due to concerns about accessibility and availability of computers for all registered voters.
To Montclair State University students who asked why they all can’t be registered with the address 1 Normal Ave., Montclair, Durkin said, “You can register to vote wherever you lay your head.”
As the university sits in three different towns, it would be impossible to use one centralized address for dorm students.
Citizens can vote 45 days ahead of an election at any local County Clerk Office.
In 2008, the Primary Election was moved up to Feb. 5 from June to see if “we could be more of a player.” Voter turnout for Essex County rose from 20,000 to 40,000 voters. Election Day 2017 is Nov. 7.
For voting information and assistance, call 1-877-NJVOTER (1-877-658-6837) . Go to elections.nj.gov to verify that you are a registered voter, or to find your polling location.
Durkin’s office is at 465 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Newark. He can be contacted at 973-621-4921. Press prompt #4 to reach his office. The address for The League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area is LWV-Montclair Area, P.O. Box 43294, Montclair, NJ 07043 or go to lwvmontclairarea.org.