Newark Board of Education 2024 election results: Voters pick incumbents backed by mayor

A fence with voting information on it in front of a brick building.
Oliver Street Elementary School in the Ironbound neighborhood was a polling site for Tuesday's Newark Board of Education election. Turnout was low, as it has been for years. (Jessie Gómez / Chalkbeat)

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Incumbents Dawn Haynes and Vereliz Santana and their running mates, Helena Vinhas and Kanileah Anderson, appeared headed to victory in Tuesday’s Newark school board election, in which fewer than 2.8% of voters participated, according to preliminary results.

All four candidates are part of the mayoral-backed “Moving Newark Schools Forward” slate, whose candidates have won every school board election since 2016. Santana and Vinhas each received 22% of the vote, according to preliminary results, while Haynes received roughly 20%. Anderson ran unopposed in her bid to complete the rest of her one-year term.

If the leading candidates hold on to win, the nine-member board would be composed entirely of members who ran for election as part of the “Moving Newark Schools Forward” slate.

First-time candidate Debra Salters trailed the four-member slate with 11.3%. Returning candidate Che’ J.T. Colter ran alongside newcomer Muta El-Amin on the “It Takes a Village” slate, a duo of community advocates who each received roughly 3%. Returning candidate Latoya Jackson received 6.3%, while two-time candidates Sheila Montague and Jimmie White garnered 8.3% and 2.7%, respectively.

Voters were choosing three candidates to serve three-year terms on the school board, along with Anderson, who was appointed to the board to fill a vacant seat and running to stay for the rest of her term.

As of 9:34 p.m. on Tuesday, Essex County results showed that out of 163,713 registered voters in Newark, just 4,626 voted in the school board election, which determines who sets policies for New Jersey’s largest school system, and its roughly 40,000 students. The board is also tasked with holding the superintendent accountable and, last month, approved a $1.5 billion budget.

During the day, residents reported low turnout at polling sites across the city’s five wards. Historically, voter turnout for the annual school board election has been low, typically around 3% to 4%. In last year’s election, just over 3% of Newark voters participated.

An open green door with voting information taped on.
The Oliver Street Elementary School polling site was quiet at noon on Tues., April 16, 2024 in Newark, New Jersey. (Jessie Gómez / Chalkbeat)

At Oliver Street Elementary School, in the Ironbound section of Newark, few people turned up to vote early in the day. Poll workers at the school said fewer than five people had shown up to vote by 2 p.m.

“I had no idea that was happening,” said parent Patricia Miraflor in Spanish, as she looked at a candidate flyer taped to a pole across the street.

Outside the school, signs that read “vote here” in English and Spanish hung outside a black gate leading people up a ramp and to the entrance of the voting site.

More than 90 churches, senior centers, and schools across the city’s five wards opened their doors at 6 a.m. on Election Day to serve as polling places. Despite being open until 8 p.m. on Tuesday, many sites only saw a slow trickle of voters throughout the day.

Lifelong Newark resident Barbara Howell knows the stakes are high for the school board race but feels disappointed with voter turnout every year. Howell said she mailed in her ballot last week.

“I saw a few of the candidates stop by senior centers but I didn’t really know them or what they’ve done here,” said Howell on Tuesday.

Newark anticipated a new wave of voters this year after the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to lower the voting age to 16 for school board elections. But those voters will not participate until next year’s election due to state and county delays in getting voter registration machines ready by April.

A street pole covered in candidate signs on a sidewalk in front of a red brick building.
Candidate signs hang outside Mt. Zion Baptist Church, a polling site on Tuesday in Newark. (Jessie Gómez / Chalkbeat)

In the North Ward, the polling site located in the basement of Roberto Clemente Elementary School saw four voters by 12:45 p.m. A few blocks away, Mount Zion Baptist Church saw 14 voters as of 1 p.m. as poll workers passed the time by knitting, having lunch, and chatting about the day.

“If nobody votes, nobody can complain about what’s wrong with the schools,” Howell added on Tuesday.

Maggie Freeman, who ran for a seat on the school board in 2022, said she was the 10th person to vote at Good Neighbor Baptist Church in the South Ward as of 2:20 p.m. Every year, she wonders why voter turnout is low.

Nonprofit groups such as Project Ready, The Gem Project, and the Newark branch of the NAACP held candidate forums to increase voter turnout this year. Each group has stressed the importance of participating in the election by canvassing, sharing information on social media, and hosting voter events. Project Ready also hired a truck with an LED message board to drive around the city and encourage people to vote.

Sol Salazar was driving that truck down Bergen Street on Election Day.

“People took pictures by the truck, but the goal is to get them to the polls,” said Salazar before she drove up to the North Ward.

A white and blue wall with voting information taped on.
At a polling site inside Newark School of Global Studies, only one person had voted by 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday. (Jessie Gómez / Chalkbeat)

Ester Perez, a poll worker for a school in the Central Ward on Tuesday, attended McKinley Elementary School and remembers how hard it was to learn English as a second language when she was a student. Perez remembers her parents and others in the city advocating for more services for bilingual students and hopes today’s parents learn to voice their concerns too.

That starts by “going out to vote,” Perez said.

“I remember way back when I went to school that parents were more involved with education,” Perez said. “It was a big topic for the city back then.”

Irvington also held school board elections Tuesday.

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

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