Ballot 101

Ever asked yourself “What are all these elected positions on my ballot?” Answers below:

Statewide positions

  1. Governor: The Governor of the State of New Jersey is head of the executive branch of New Jersey’s state government. The office of governor is an elected position, for which elected officials serve four-year terms. Governors cannot be elected to more than two consecutive terms, but there is no limit on the total number of terms they may serve.
  2. State Senate: Each of New Jersey’s 40 legislative districts is represented by one senator in the New Jersey State Senate. The State Senate, together with the General Assembly (see below) form the New Jersey Legislature. Senators are elected for 4-year terms, except for the first term in a decade that is a 2-year term (that is, in the 2021 elections senators will be elected for a 2-year term). Senators serve part-time, and typically hold other employment. The Senate chamber is located in the State House in Trenton. 
  3. General Assembly: Each of New Jersey’s 40 legislative districts is represented by two members in the New Jersey General Assembly. The General Assembly, together with the Senate (see above) form the New Jersey Legislature. Assembly members are elected for 2-year terms. They serve part-time, and typically hold other employment. The General Assembly chamber is located in the State House in Trenton.

County-wide positions – New Jersey is divided geographically into 21 counties of varied sizes, that serve as administrative and political units. The elected positions at the county level are:

  1. Sheriff: Each of New Jersey’s 21 counties has an elected Sheriff — the chief law enforcement officer in the county. Sheriffs are elected for 3-year terms, with terms staggered such that each year some counties have elections for Sheriff. They can serve an unlimited number of terms.
  2. County commissioners (formerly Freeholders): Every county has a legislative body called the board of commissioners, that consists of 3-9 members (odd numbers only, depending on the size of the county). NJ allows for four alternatives for county governance: a popularly elected county executive, an appointed county manager, an appointed county supervisor, or a board president. In most counties, an appointed administrator is in charge of operations, though in a few the commissioners themselves have executive responsibilities over county departments. Five counties — Atlantic, Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Mercer — have popularly elected county executives in addition to commissioner boards. Union County has a county manager. The Board of Commissioners elects members to leadership positions that can include director, deputy director, president, vice-president, chair, chair pro tempore, vice-chair.
    County responsibilities include administering state social-service programs; maintaining county jails, most state courts, and most of the state’s bridges; funding county colleges, vocational schools, and prosecutors; managing elections; providing transportation for senior citizens and disabled people; handling trash and recycling; promoting economic development; and performing many other functions. Counties in NJ do not have tax-collecting power, and their (substantial) budgets come from local property taxes in towns in the county.
  3. County Clerk: While elected, county clerks don’t legislate or make policy, but rather are service-oriented and should be servicing the public. Their main role is to oversee the county’s handling of public records (e.g., issuing passports, handling real estate documents, trade names and swearing in public notaries) and help run local elections. County clerks also draw the ballots for elections, and have discretion on how to format the ballot itself, which is especially important for primary elections. All documents handled by county clerks are open to the public.
  4. Surrogate: The surrogate is part of a county’s judicial branch, and is responsible for handling matters that need to be handled in surrogate court such as wills, guardianships for incapacitated individuals and minors left without parents, adoption records and proceedings.

Local positions – Local government in NJ deals with issues of local zoning, parking ordinances, upkeep of local infrastructure (roads, sidewalks, parks), etc., and is funded by local property taxes. The form of the local governance depends on the type of municipalityborough (250), city (52), town (15), township (245), or village (4), which also determines which are the elected positions:

  1. Township Committee: In NJ municipalities that operate as a township, the township committee is the backbone of the local government. Township committees comprise three or five elected members who serve staggered three-year terms. The township committee elects the mayor for a one-year term, to serve as chair of the township committee. Under the township form, all legislative powers are concentrated in the committee, who also has all executive powers.
  2. Mayor and City Council: In Borough, City and Town Form municipalities, voters elect the mayor and council in partisan elections (in the Village Form, the significant difference is that the council is known as the Board of Trustees and the mayor is known as the President of the Board).
    In Boroughs, the mayor is elected to a four-year term. Six council members are elected to staggered three-year terms. The Borough form is often referred to as a “weak mayor-strong council” form. The mayor retains all general law authority, presides over council meetings and can vote in the case of a tie. The mayor appoints, with the advice and consent of council, all subordinate officers of the municipality. The council is the legislative body of the Borough. All executive responsibilities not placed in the office of the Mayor by general law or the Borough law remain with the council.
    In Cities, the mayor serves a four-year term, unless a two or three-year term preceded the passage of the 1997 law. The city council consists of seven members with six elected from wards for three-year terms and one elected at-large for a four-year term. The mayor is the chief executive, may participate in council meetings and can vote to break ties. The mayor can veto ordinances and serves as the head of the police department. The council is the legislative body of the municipality and appoints most of the subordinate officers of the city.
    In Towns, the mayor serves a two-year term, though voters can, through petition and referendum, change the term to three years. The council consists of eight members serving staggered two-year terms (every year one seat from each of four wards is up for election). The mayor chairs the town council, and may vote on legislation and veto ordinances. The council can appoint, through ordinance, any subordinate officer with the exceptions of the municipal clerk, tax assessor and tax collector, which are appointed by mayor and council.
  3. Board of Education: The schools of each public school district in NJ are governed by a board of education, also called a school board. The school board consists of people who live in the community. They are non-partisan and they receive no pay or benefits for their public service. The school board has a dual role: to represent the concerns of the citizens, taxpayers and parents to the school administrators, and to represent the needs of the students and school district to the citizens, taxpayers and parents of the community. The school board does not operate the district on a day-to-day basis, rather, it sets the policies, goals and objectives, and holds the superintendent, who is the  district’s chief executive, responsible for implementing the policies and achieving the goals.
    Not all boards of education are elected: “Type I” school districts, those in cities, have an appointed board of education. “Type II” school districts—all local districts in municipalities other than cities, all consolidated school districts, and all regional school districts—can have either an elected board of education, where the board consists of nine members (unless by law the number was reduced to three, five or seven members) elected at annual school elections for terms of three years, or appointed board of education, where members are appointed by the mayor or other chief executive officer of the municipality for five-year terms (for five-member boards) and three-year terms (for seven- and nine-member boards).

Primary election ballots only:

  1. State Committee (Male and Female*): Each of the major parties has a party structure that is comprised of elected committee men and committee women. The party committees endorse and work to elect party candidates to all state and local positions (e.g., mayor, council). State Committee members are elected in primary elections, every 4 years. The Republican Party Committee has two representatives from each of the 21 counties; The Democratic Party Committee is made up of 98 total votes that are apportioned among the counties based on total population of each county, with equal numbers of men and women in the committee. (more)
  2. County Committee (Male and Female*): Each of the major parties has staffed committees in each county. County committees appoint positions, endorse state-wide and local candidates, and help them get elected. They also design the county ballots, whose form can strongly sway the results of elections. County committees receive a budget from the Party, and have considerable influence over the identification and promotion of local candidates for office. 

* Both State and County Committee elections had, in the past, reserved seats for female and male candidates. Recent lawsuits successfully contesting this on the basis of gender discrimination (e.g., preventing nonbinary and transgender people from running for said seats) and this distinction is no longer lawful. 

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