By ERIN ROLL
In the days leading up the rally after the Nov. 3 election, organizers James Cotter and John Sullivan said that they hoped that the rally would not be necessary.
But as America awaited for the remaining swing states to finalize their ballot counts Friday afternoon, Montclair residents appealed for every one of them to be counted. About 70 people, from children to senior citizens, attended a rally presented by Protect the Vote Montclair in the center green of Watchung Plaza on Nov. 6.
“Organizers are hopeful that the integrity of the election will be protected, that the rule of law will stand and the rally will be unnecessary,” they said in an announcement about the rally. But the rally went ahead due to the remaining votes needing to be counted, and concerns about the Trump administration trying to have the vote count stopped before all of the ballots were tallied. Before Vice President Joseph Biden was finally declared the winner on Saturday morning, Trump’s administration had filed lawsuits in some of the states as the counting continued, while Trump made unproven accusations of voter and electoral fraud.
“In our little corner of the world, Montclair, we are a loud and proud participant,” Cotter said, adding that there was record voter turnout during a pandemic.
The weather was warm for autumn, with sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 60s. “We ordered this weather direct from John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” joked Cotter, who remarked that the late representative and Supreme Court justice were likely “upstairs” monitoring the election.
Cotter asked the rally attendees to think about what they were willing to endure. That did not include the erosion of the United States’ institutions and democratic practices, he said.
“Today, we draw a line in the sand. Every vote should count.”
The speakers at the rally represented groups such as the Montclair NAACP, the League of Women Voters and the Religious Action Center for Reformed Judaism, and houses of worship such as Temple Ner Tamid and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair. Township officials Peter Yacobellis and Robert Russo also spoke, while former Councilwoman Renee Baskerville was among the attendees.
Baskerville lost re-election to the township council by a narrow margin, in the first only mail-in election where some ballots got lost and arrived late. But that election helped lead to other changes, such as extending the time period from 48 to seven days in which ballots could arrive and be accepted. “By having those early elections, we’re in a better place today,” she said.
Garlands of ballot envelopes hung from a tree, and a giant banner read “Protect the Vote Montclair” stretched between two trees behind the rally stage.
“This election makes me sick,” said Cotter’s mother, Jane Cotter, who attended with her fiance, Ben Ali. “If [Trump] wins, God help us, but if Biden wins, we’re good.”
Ali agreed. “I feel the same way she does. I’m a little angry, but I have to have to be patience.”
According to county numbers, 16,755 Montclair voters cast ballots in the election. In the presidential race, Biden got 90 percent of Montclair’s vote: 14,892 ballots, Trump got 8.71 percent: 1,441 ballots. The remaining votes were spread out among the remaining six presidential candidates.
As the rally began at 3 p.m. Friday, Biden had leads in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, with some ballots remaining to be counted: roughly 352,400 ballots between the four states as of earlier that afternoon. Georgia is expected to go into a recount because of the slim margin of votes.
Over the course of the hour-long rally, several passing drivers honked their horns in support.
League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area President Liz Milner said prior to the start of the rally, the league had held voter registration drives during the year in Newark, the Oranges and Irvington. She and fellow member Carmel Loughman, who also sits on the township planning board, estimated that 672 people had registered to vote, and another 400 voter registration applications had been sent out as a result.
Kevin Pierre, speaking on behalf of the Montclair NAACP, said that the protection of voting rights has been central to the NAACP’s mission since the organization’s founding in 1909.
“And at this time in history, we assure you, we will protect everyone’s right to vote,” Pierre said.
He acknowledged that watching the election returns was highly stressful for him, and for everyone else. “It hopefully ends on the better side of history for all of us,” he said.
Rabbi Marc Katz spoke in his capacity as rabbi of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, and with his involvement in the Religious Action Center for Reformed Judaism. It was fitting, he said, that clergy of different faiths were speaking.
“At the end of the day, it is a moral issue. It is not about politics, or seeing who wins or loses,” he said.
Sarah Blaine, who was also involved with the Religious Action Center’s efforts to encourage voting, was also in attendance at the rally. “I’m here to put my money where my mouth is, and to say every vote should be counted.”
Lynley Jones helped spearhead a voter participation effort at First Congregational Church. The church had 100 participation from its congregation in voting. “We’ve worked so hard, and the votes are cast. And now we’ve got to keep working hard,” Jones said.
Among audience members, there were feelings of hope, even with the slow pace of the ballot count and the concerns of interference.
Valentina Felisbret, a sixth-grader at Glenfield Middle School, attended the rally wearing an RBG mask. “I wanted to come out because I know this is one of the most important elections of our time, and it’s a very close one,” she said. She added that she was hopeful that the turnout would be a good one.
Naomi Johnson admitted that she didn’t really care for either candidate. But she lost a cousin to COVID-19, and she said Trump’s handling of the pandemic was responsible for that.
She hoped that Biden would deliver on his campaign promises and do what was right.
“I’m just glad that Trump is out,” said Johnson.