The single most important key to winning an election is the work done by the local party and its committeemen. You believe in the principles of the party, you believe in the qualifications of the party candidates for office, and you believe the party must win the election at the polls. It is with these beliefs you take on the task of representing the party in your district. This is a responsibility that all too frequently is taken lightly, and yet, the local party worker is the major key to victory. This is practical politics; the essential business of persuading others that their best interests are allied with the party. An election campaign is made up of many things: billboards, press releases, signs, etc., but these are useless without you, the party member, to make personal contacts. The party needs you because YOU are the party.
PARTY STRUCTURE AND ORGANIZATION A political party, according to New Jersey election laws, is one that polled at least 10 percent of the total vote cast in the state in the most recent general election held for all members of the General Assembly. Only the Democratic and Republican parties in New Jersey meet these statutory requirements. Their nominees are entitled to a party line on the ballot. It is easy, however, for a candidate of a minor political party, or even an ambitious independent individual, to get his name on the ballot by presenting a petition in keeping with the statutory requirements. Political parties are the mechanism through which candidates are nominated, elections are conducted, party policies and platforms promulgated, political appointments made, and, most important, the instrument through which an orderly change of government following elections is accomplished. The primary function of the political parties is the selection and election of candidates at the local, county, state, and national levels. Since nominees in the primary election are, for the most part, selected or recommended by political clubs and county committees, it is obvious that the selection of those who make these decisions is extremely important.
POLITICAL PARTY ORGANIZATION State law requires that municipal, county, and state party committees meet, organize, and elect a chairman and vice-chairman of the opposite sex at a specified time following the primary election. The law stipulates that the chairman be "some suitable person". He need not be an elected member of the committee of which he is chairman. Under state law, the county committee determines the units into which the county is to be divided for purposes of representation in the county committee. In general, the election districts within the county are used as a basis of representation; in other words, each election district elects one man and one woman from each party to serve on their respective county committees. In some counties the basis may be the municipality. Thus, it is possible for one municipality with a population of 250 and another with a population of 10,000 to have the same representation on the county committee. Not only may there be variations in the basis of representation from county to county but there may also be variations within the county between the two parties.
COUNTY CHAIRMAN The annual meeting of the county committee is held on the first Tuesday following the primary election. At this time, the members elect a chairman for a one-year term "or until his successor is elected." Usually, the post is held by one man for several years, as this is a highly coveted position and once achieved not lightly surrendered. The office of the county chairman in New Jersey is one of great power for a number of reasons. The county political organization is the vehicle for nominations to elected county, state, and congressional offices. The county committee collects and provides funds for campaigns, organizes and directs campaigns, and staffs the polls with party election board members and party challengers. It works through the municipal committees or political clubs (depending on the community), which maintain party cohesion, stimulate registration, get out the vote, and maintain contact with voters.
The county chairman's most important base of power is his control of patronage. Because of his influence over the selection of candidates for elective office, he is consulted on virtually all appointments of individuals from his county, including those that are made by the Governor with the approval of the Senate. Posts ranging from state board and commission members and county judges to assistant county attorneys are within his domain.
Patronage dispensed by the county chairman is not limited to political appointments. Jobs, contracts for goods, services, and construction; personal favors such as arranging for admission to state institutions or expediting the usual requirements for local or county services--all are within the power of many county chairmen. County chairmen or political leaders are able to use their political muscle in other ways. In counties where his authority is entrenched, the county chairman--through the use of his power to select candidates for the state legislature--may in effect dictate legislators' votes on key issues. For example, during the legislative battle over the enactment of a state income tax in 1966, the incumbent governor, a democrat failed to get Democratic county leaders in Hudson and Essex to release "their" legislators to vote as they wished on the bill. None of the legislators dared to defy the county leaders' orders.
PARTY MEMBERSHIP Political party membership in New Jersey operates on two distinct levels. The great majority of people who belong to a party are passive members who declare their affiliation in order to qualify for voting in a primary election. This is the full extent to which most citizens take part in partisan politics. On the other hand, participation in what has been termed the "gladiatorial activities"-that is, working for a party, joining a political club, and attending political meetings, is engaged in by only two to three percent of all citizens of voting age. It is these few party activists who pick candidates, raise campaign funds, and run the campaigns and the elections.
STATE PARTY CONVENTIONS According to New Jersey law, state party conventions are to be held in the years in which all members of the General Assembly are elected. The conventions are called by the state party committees and are held in Trenton on the second Tuesday after the primary election. Delegates, according to law, are all party nominees for national and state office, party members who hold such offices, members of the state committee, members of the national committee from New Jersey, and the county chairmen. There are no elected delegates. Unlike the national party conventions, the only business of the state conventions is the drafting and adopting of the party platform. After the introduction of all proposed planks, the convention adjourns to reconvene in two weeks. The resolutions committee, having prepared a tentative platform, furnishes a copy to each member of the convention. The convention then reassembles at the designated time to vote on the adoption of the platform.
FINANCING CAMPAIGNS Campaign financing at all levels of government is an ever-growing problem owing to steeply rising costs and the increasing use of lavish and sophisticated campaign techniques. This is especially so for statewide gubernatorial and congressional candidates who must buy expensive radio and television time. Both major political parties have made attempts to broaden the base of their financial support by soliciting small contributions from the public, but their efforts have been largely unsuccessful. Most campaign funds are raised by the political organization through solicitation of its membership, elected and appointed public officeholders, persons having government contracts, labor unions, business corporations, and wealthy individuals. New Jersey law forbids campaign contributions by railroads, public utilities, banks, and insurance companies. The $100-a-plate dinner is a favorite device for raising funds.
So great is the need for funds that pressure is frequently put upon the party nominees to make generous contributions, although such pressure is prohibited by law. Candidates may even be selected because they are able to contribute or get others to contribute on their behalf. A significant source of campaign contributions comes from special interest groups that form political action committees called "PACS".
REPORTING REQUIREMENTS. New Jersey election laws require the reporting of sources of campaign funds by candidates and municipal, county, and state committees.
ELECTION PROCEDURES Qualifications for voting in New Jersey are a matter of citizenship, age, resident, mental competency, and registration. Literacy is not a requirement. Since its beginning as a colony in 1664, the right of franchise has been more liberally bestowed in New Jersey than in many other states. Voters were never excluded on religious grounds, although an oath was sometimes prescribed. Property holding, once a common prerequisite for voting in early United States history, was completely abolished in New Jersey in 1844 as a voting qualification.
Women were allowed to vote in New Jersey under laws passed in 1790 and 1797 but that right was taken from them by a law passed in 1807. The franchise was permanently extended to Negroes in 1870; and to women in 1920.
REGISTRATION Responsibility for registration lies with the county commissioner of registration. In counties having a superintendent of elections (post is mandatory in first class counties and at the option of the freeholders in certain other counties) that person is the commissioner of registration. In all other counties the secretary of the county board of elections is the commissioner of registration. Just before the close of registration prior to a general election;the county commissioner of registration must provide for extra hours of registration during the evening on at least six working days. Registration practices vary from county to county because some election laws are permissive and the authority for administration is at the county level.
CLEARING THE REGISTRATION ROLLS Registration rolls are kept up to date to some extent with the help of monthly reports from health officers, who report deaths of persons over 18 within their jurisdiction, and county prosecutors, who report names of persons convicted of crimes that could disqualify those persons as voters. In addition, county election officials may, preceding each general election for members of the United States House of Representatives, send government reply postcards to each registrant who failed to vote at the previous election to determine if that voter still resides there, or to obtain his new address if he has moved. There are other requirements designed to facilitate this requirement. One of every four potential New Jersey voters-- 2,000,000 eligible persons--had failed to register by the deadline for the November 1968 election, according to an Eagleton Institute report.
PRIMARY ELECTIONS A primary, so called because it is the first election (the second being the general election), is a party election. Prior to the adoption of New Jersey's direct primary laws, in 1903 and 1911, the selection of party candidates and officials was solely within the control of the parties themselves. But election scandals then rocking the state pointed up the corrupting power of the political machines. In response, the primary was devised as a means of giving the voters direct control of the parties.
New Jersey has what is known as a "closed" primary, in which a voter must declare his political affiliation and then can vote only for candidates in the party of his declared choice. By thus preventing voters from "crossing over" to vote for candidates of the other party, New Jersey avoids the possibility (available in states with "open" primaries) of a party adopting the strategy of voting in the primary for the weakest of the opposition candidates in the hope of setting up an easier target to defeat in the general election .
Once declared, a voter may change his political affiliation (for voting in the primary) provided he does so 50 days before the next primary. Obviously, how a person votes in a primary has no binding effect on how he may vote in a general election.
NOMINATION FOR PUBLIC OFFICE Nominations for public office are made by petition, signed only by qualified voters who are members of the same political party as a nominee. Signers must assert that in the last general election they voted for a majority of the candidates of that political party and that they intend to affiliate with the same party at the ensuring election. The minnimum number of signers needed varies from 25 to 1,000, depending largely on the particular office sought. Petitions must be filed by the fiftieth day preceding the primary election with the secretary of state, the county clerk, or the municipal clerk, again depending on the office sought. There is no filing fee.
Requirements for independent candidates, i.e., candidates for a public office who do not want to run as Democrats or Republicans, are somewhat different. For example, the signers' party affiliations are immaterial, more signatures may be required, and more witnesses to the signatures are necessary. Independent candidates file their petitions at the same time and place as other candidates, but their names do not appear on the ballot until November.
NOMINATIONS FOR PARTY OFFICE Petitions are also used to nominate candidates for party office; the signers must not be members of the other party. Three types of party posts are filled by the voters in a primary; county committeeman and committeewoman, elected yearly; state committeeman and committeewoman, in gubernatorial election years; and delegates and alternates to the parties' national nominating conventions, in Presidential election years. The number of necessary signatures ranges down to 10 (for county committeeman and woman), but the filing requirements are the same as for public office.
A voter often has no opportunity in the primary election to choose between two or more candidates for a party position or public office because differences are usually resolved and agreement reached on who shall run for these posts, and a single slate of candidates for each of the parties is then presented on the ballot. In case there is a disagreement that cannot be resolved, the dissidents may sometimes withdraw altogether, from what is often termed the "Reform" segment of their party and run their own set of candidates for party positions as well as for the other elective offices. Voters may then pick and choose. There is no single lever to vote a straight party line.
For those who disapprove of the party choices, there is a remedy: they may join the local organization of the party of their choice and use their influence there--where it counts the most--in picking candidates and deciding party policy. Membership is open to any citizen eligible to vote. If there is no political club of the party of one's choice, then one may be organized by a group of interested citizens. Or they may themselves run for party or public office.
ROLE OF THE POLITICAL PARTIES IN THE ELECTION PROCESS In New Jersey, elections are run by the two major parties. The county and district boards of election--whose members (two from each party) are selected by the county chairmen of the parties--supervise every detail of both primary and general elections, from registration through the counting of the ballots. Order is maintained at the polling places by these party officials and challengers named by each party are present to check violations by voters. Supporters and opponents of public questions may have challengers as well.
NONPARTISAN ELECTIONS Many municipalities, depending on their form of government, have nonpartisan elections to fill municipal offices. As these are nonpartisan elections, no primary is held. These elections occur in May to reduce the influence of partisan identifications and loyalties, although this is not always successfuI. Elections for school board posts, held in February, are also nonpartisan. Petitions to put the candidates' names on the ballot are filed at least 50 days prior to the pertinent election with the municipal clerk or the school district clerk, as the case may be.
CITIZEN PARTICIPATION We live in a republic using a democratic form of government. Democracy, it has been said. is the most difficult form of government to operate because it requires active participation on the part of its citizens. Historically, there has been a great reluctance on the part of the overwhelming majority of citizens to become involved in political activity. The work of selecting candidates, financing campaigns, and conducting the business of government at every level has been left to the few.
Even voting, the minimal participation in the rites of democracy, is not exercised by a great majority of the voting-age population. An average of only 21.6 percent of the registered voters went to the polls in New Jersey in the decade of the sixties in other than presidential elections.