2021 Election: N.J. judge denies request to keep polls open later

Jessica D’Angelo wears a mask outside a polling place

Jessica D’Angelo said the most important issue that brought her to the polls in Bucks Coubty, Pa., was the school board race outside her polling place in Perkasie, Pa., on Nov. 2, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A judge in New Jersey has ruled against a last-ditch effort to keep polls open an extra 90 minutes, following reports that new technology caused delays and resulted in some voters being turned away.

The ACLU of New Jersey and League of Women Voters of New Jersey had filed a lawsuit around 5:30 pm to keep polls in the Garden State open until 9:30 p.m.

“Delays caused by technical issues aren’t an excuse to deny voters their right to vote,” wrote the ACLU of NJ on Twitter.

Earlier in the day, some of the state’s new e-poll books, tablet-like devices used for the first time this year, had issues connecting to the internet, resulting in long lines and reports of voters leaving some locations without being able to cast a ballot, according to the New York Times.

In that same article, state officials said they believed the technical glitches were not widespread.

By law, polling places in the state must open between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., and by effectively opening late some people were denied their constitutional right to vote, according to the complaint.

Governor Phil Murphy and his GOP Challenger Jack Ciattarelli opposed the extension, according to NJ Political reporter Matt Friedman, with Politico.

Judge William Anklowitz agreed, and denied the request less than half an hour before polls were set to close.

The ACLU of NJ confirmed this decision on social media, and urged anyone who is at a polling place as of 8 p.m. to “stay in line.”

NJ voters decide whether Murphy stays or goes

The polls opened at 6 a.m. Tuesday in New Jersey with this big question: Who will be the next governor? Will voters choose Gov. Phil Murphy to make him the first Democrat to win reelection to the state’s top post in 44 years, or elect his Republican challenger, former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli?

Voter Jamie Lerman thinks the race will be close because former President Barack Obama came out to campaign for Murphy. “You don’t call out the big guns if it isn’t close,” Lerman said.

In the predawn hours, voters trickled into a polling place in Shamong, Burlington County. John Seeley said he was voting Republican to remove Murphy from office. “We really need some help,” Seeley said. “The way Murphy handled things during COVID, acting like a king laying down mandates and everything else, is going to bite him.”

Seeley said he came physically to vote because he “doesn’t really trust” mail balloting. He noted he’s “vaccinated and wants to do it the old-fashioned way.”

Cherry Hill voter June Li also said she came out in person because she does not “believe in a mail-in ballot.”

Some Republicans suddenly pushed back against voting by mail in 2020, such as former President Donald Trump saying it was illegal for Michigan to mail ballot request forms to all registered voters, and that expanding mail ballots would be bad for Republicans. Much of his attacks on voting by mail have been debunked, even by the FBI while Trump was president.

By September, Pennsylvania had already performed two post-2020 reviews — in one, counties all audited 2% of their votes, as required by state law. The state also performed a risk-limiting audit in nearly every county. Both audits confirmed the results of the election, which President Joe Biden won by more than 80,000 votes.

As of last week, thousands of New Jersey residents had already cast their ballots by mail or at early voting centers. In addition to the governor’s race, all 120 seats in the state Legislature are up for election.

In Pennsylvania, the polls opened at  7 a.m. and will stay open until 8 p.m.

“I like voting in person,” said Jessica Spangler, who lives in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood. “I like doing it the day of. I know it’s kind of dorky, but it excites me.”

Voters can vote in person, or drop off a mail ballot at one of the city’s secure drop boxes. (Millions of voters applied for mail ballots for the 2020 election.)

One question in Philadelphia is whether District Attorney Larry Krasner will win another four years, which is likely because voters in the city overwhelmingly pick Democrats.

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Jessica Spangler stands outside her polling place wearing a mask that says, "VOTE"
Jessica Spangler stands outside her polling place in Fishtown. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)

Spangler said she was voting for Krasner: “I enjoy being in a place where we’re trying to do something progressive, and we have someone that’s trying something outside the box to see how progressive ideas work in the real world.”

Dennis Weiss, who also lives in Fishtown, was against Krasner, saying Krasner is letting criminals go.

“He’s not prosecuting people,” Weiss said. “We have to do something about the murder rate in the city of Philadelphia, and we have to do something about our police force. Take care of (them.)”

There are also judicial candidates on the ballot, some of whom are basically guaranteed a seat while other courts have more contested races.

Extended polling hours at two Montco locations

The Montgomery County Board of Elections announced Tuesday afternoon that it had gotten a court order to extend the polling hours at Gotwals Elementary School and ​​Cole Manor Elementary School in Norristown until 9 p.m.

The county said that equipment went to the wrong polling places in the morning and had to be transferred back, which led to a delay in opening. The error affected four precincts. All other polling locations in the county will close as originally scheduled, at 8 p.m.

School board races get heightened attention

In the suburban counties, school board races are taking on unusually high profiles this election season because some have become proxies for big national debates on COVID-19 policies and how to teach race and history in schools. Conservative think tanks, media outlets, and law firms have cited critical race theory, an academic framework that is mostly taught in universities, as a reason to block lessons on race and gender. The attention has led to a wave of political spending in school board elections, mostly from Republicans.

In Bucks County, a steady stream of voters arrived at Pennridge South Middle School in Perkasie Tuesday morning, and several cited the school board election as a big motivator for coming out to the polls.

In August, the Republican-controlled Pennridge School Board voted, 6-1, to pause its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives, in part due to parent complaints over school curriculum and reading materials.

Diana Long stands outside with an "I Voted" sticker on her jacket
Diana Long and her two children graduated from the Pennridge school district in Perkasie, Pa., and she said it concerned her that board members were trying to change the curriculum outside her polling place in Perkasie, Pa., on Nov. 2, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“I don’t like the sound of banning books or restricting education,” said voter Diana Long, who graduated from the district, as did her two children. “I don’t like 10 people trying to decide what the whole entire school is going to learn.”

Long said the current school board is trying to control the curriculum, and the way that history is taught, in a way that makes her nervous.

“They say, ‘Keep the politics out of it,’ but it doesn’t seem like that,” she said.

Voter Eileen Hartman said that she doesn’t want “different ideologies imposed on kids,” and that schools should focus on “what we have in common … instead of what divides us.”

George Pavlonsky wears a face mask in a parking lot
George Pavlonsky, a retired teacher in the Palisades school district, said he wanted to see more balance in the local government in Quakertown, Pa., outside his polling place on Nov. 2, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“I’m a Republican, and it’s very important for me to keep our traditions, keep America America, keep our children just learning regular reading, writing, arithmetic, and the history of our country, and just being patriotic,” said Hartman, whose now-grown children grew up in the Pennridge School District.

In September 2020, Trump announced a commission to promote “patriotic education” and a grant to develop “pro-American curriculum” in response to schools teaching American history that better acknowledges slavery and systemic racism. The federal government does not have jurisdiction over school curriculum.

George Pavlinsky taught in the Palisades School District in Bucks County for two decades. He said that in the school board race Tuesday, “I voted Democratic only because the county is too Republican. I’d like to see something a little more even, balanced.”

Izak Zurita, an 18-year-old senior at Palisades High School, came out to the polls with his grandma to vote for the first time. He’d like to see local officials do more to educate young adults about the voting process, “because if they don’t know how that process goes, they won’t know to properly vote, and that will affect how our society progresses.”

Alex Evangelista was motivated to step out into the light drizzle to be involved in local elections. The 28-year-old minister lives just down the street from the Media Community Center, so he said coming to vote in person was no issue.

Evangelista works with kids as a minister, and he said he is well aware of how tumultuous and toxic local school board meetings have been during this election cycle.

“There hasn’t been the ability to have those conversations in a civil matter, so I’m hoping that that can change,” he said.

Evangelista is an advocate for teaching the full history of the country, and he said he finds that critical race theory conversations can be frustrating because people aren’t fully informed about what it means, or the simple fact that it is not being taught in the K-12 education system. He blames the “binary rhetoric” for the confusion.

He said he also cares about the education system and fair funding, as well as police accountability and police reform.

“I’ve been having in mind still a lot of the uprising that occurred last year and really having the sustainable energy to follow through on those commitments and asking for justice, accountability, and really reimagining what it means to serve and protect our neighborhoods,” he said.

Lawn signs are pictured in upport of Republican candidate
Support for Republican judicial and council candidates in Darby, Township, Delaware County, on Election Day, Nov. 2, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Margaret Hammond, 49, of Media, is worried about school taxes, safety, and crime, but she’s also keeping an eye on when students will be able to take their masks off in school.

“I’m actually a Democrat and a nurse, but I just want to make sure that we are not prolonging this as long as possible when the numbers go down,” Hammond said.

As voting wound down in Montgomery County, school board races still dominated the conversation at the Abington Arts Center polling place.

Gregory McLaren, a Republican committee member, has seen how tense these local competitions have been across the county.

“I think ours are leaning towards going in the toxic direction, so I think that’s why it’s important that people educate themselves on what’s happening with their school district,” McLaren said.

Craig Outten, a Democratic party volunteer, said that the school board race has indeed been heated.

“I think that’s probably the most emotional one,” he said, advising that voters “make up their own minds regarding those very important issues and not be swayed by social media.”

Anthony Palazzolo, 31, of Jenkintown, a historian and educator, said it’s important to have “dialogue.”

That way, you “make sure everyone’s voice is heard, and also [make] sure the voices of people who aren’t represented are heard,” he said.

Watching the wave

In Delaware County, two County Council seats also are up for grabs. Two Republicans are vying to regain spots on the five-member panel, which has been all-Democratic since the 2019 election that swept the GOP out of power for the first time since the Civil War. One Democrat, Kevin Madden, is up for re-election, and Richard Womack, a former Darby Township commissioner and police commissioner, hopes to take over the seat Democrat Brian Zidek is leaving.

Republican candidates Frank Agovino, a businessman, and Joe Lombardo, mayor of Clifton Heights, are vying for the same council spots.

On Tuesday, Madden and Womack spoke with WHYY News in Darby Township.

Madden said the Democratic council’s record puts them in a strong position.

“I think we really set the building blocks for what we have to come,” Madden said. He pointed to the deprivatization of Pennsylvania’s only privately-operated county prison, the George C. Hill Correctional Facility, along with the creation of the new county health department set to debut in January, as tangible achievements.

As far as what’s to come, Womack has a couple of ideas that he hopes to implement if elected, such as a trades apprenticeship program.

“We know a lot of young people are not really going to college,” he said.

Although they’re confident in their plans, Madden doesn’t want to play the role of the fortune-teller.

“I think we have to run as if we’re behind — that’s my view. So we have to ensure that folks don’t take anything for granted … Democracy doesn’t have off-years,” he said.

WHYY News reached out to the Republican candidates for Delaware County Council but is still awaiting responses.

It’s too early to say whether Democrats will have another sweep. Voter Christine McNamara, 74, of Media, said she turned out today to keep the “blue wave” going.

“I don’t want the Republicans acting the way they are getting in with the midterms, and I just want to support the Democrats any way I can,” McNamara said.

Despite her strong feelings, she said that she still encouraged her son with opposing political views to come out and vote, because it’s an American value.

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