Newark nonprofit celebrates “votingtine’s week” to raise voter turnout in this year’s school board election

A truck with a Ben and Jerry’s pint is in the background while a woman in a red sweater gives a rose to a student.
Voter turnout at the annual Newark Board of Education election has been low for years, hovering around 3%-4% of registered voters. (Jessie Gomez / Chalkbeat)

A local nonprofit is rebranding Valentine’s Day to get residents to “fall in love with voting” ahead of the Newark school board race in April. 

This week, Project Ready, a Newark-based nonprofit organization, is celebrating “votingtine’s week” by visiting schools, registering parents to vote, and encouraging participation in the upcoming Newark Board of Education election on April 25. With only 3% of voters participating in last year’s school board race, Project Ready hopes to increase this year’s turnout. 

“One of the things we think that could be missing is that people have fallen out of love with democracy,” said Shennell McCloud, Project Ready’s chief executive officer. “Perhaps they’re a bit untrusting of democracy, untrusting of the process or perhaps they don’t know about the process.” 

Voter turnout at the annual school board election has been low for years, hovering around 3%-4% of registered voters. But organizations like Project Ready are educating residents about the significant impacts school board elections can have on children. This year, three seats on the school board are up for election and Newark voters decide who fills them. 

“All politics are local and what’s unfortunate is that what we’ve seen, over the course of the years, a complete decline in voting in local elections,” McCloud said. “So we’re taking this week where it’s originally a week of love and trying to spread the love of voting.” 

On Monday, McCloud and her team were at the Great Oaks Legacy Middle School motivating West Ward residents to vote this spring and encouraging students to tell their parents about the election. With the help of a Ben and Jerry’s truck, dozens of students and community members received free hot chocolate, cookies, flowers, and information about the upcoming election. 

“I didn’t even know there were school board elections happening,” said one parent as McCloud handed them a voter registration form. 

This year, school board incumbents Josephine Garcia, Flohisha Johnson, and Hasani Council must decide if they will seek reelection or vacate their seats when their terms expire at the end of the year. Both Garcia and Johnson were elected in 2017 and are the longest standing board members. Council joined the board in 2020. In April, Newark voters will decide who gets a three-year term on the board. 

McCloud hopes to reach roughly 1,000 Newark residents through their weeklong event. She says her group has been “intentional” about getting out the vote especially after controversy over Superintendent Roger León’s contract renewal. 

“I want to makes sure people don’t miss any more moments like that. Community voice is the most important voice,” McCloud. 

In addition to school board elections, Newark residents will also vote on the district’s 2023-24 school year budget. Preliminary budget reviews and meetings are currently being held ahead of the March 29 public budget hearing. Last year’s budget landed at $1.2 billion for the 2022-23 school year and included $138.3 million from the local tax levy. The district received roughly $1 billion in state aid.

Project Ready and the Ben and Jerry’s truck will visit KIPP BOLD and THRIVE Academy and Central High School on Valentine’s Day and Achieve Community Charter School and Avon Avenue School on Thursday. 

The last day for candidates to file is on March 6 and ballot drawings will be held on March 15, board president Dawn Haynes said at the Jan. 24 business meeting. Residents must send in their vote-by-mail ballots by April 18 or vote in person on April 25. 

For more information on how to register to vote visit Project Ready

Jessie Gomez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at jgomez@chalkbeat.org .    

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