This article was written by Michael Suleiman, chairman of the Atlantic County Democratic Committee.
To this day, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 stands as one of the most significant legislative achievements in American history. After a century of Jim Crow, and decades of Southern Democrats blocking civil rights legislation in the Senate, people of color finally had equal access to the ballot. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s ill-thought-out Shelby decision significantly weakened the Act, giving states like Georgia and Wisconsin the ability to purge voter rolls and enact abominable voter suppression laws.
The weaponization of voter suppression for political gain isn’t limited to historical figures such as Senator Richard Russell nor current governors like Governor Brian Kemp. It is alive and well in Atlantic City, where yet again a small group of council officials is, in my view, attempting to mislead the voters of Atlantic City.
Let’s be honest about what this small group wants to do: they want to suppress turnout in a minority-majority town like Atlantic City because they have been incredibly unsuccessful in winning elections. It’s yet another attempt by the political enemies of Mayor Marty Small to oust him and members of City Council. If elections are moved to May, where turnout would be no greater than 12% max1, then the ballot harvesting operation of Craig Callaway and his cronies is much more likely to succeed. This is precisely what happened in the late 1990s, when Callaway led another form of government change in an attempt to oust another popular mayor, Jim Whelan.
The inability or unwillingness of this group to be honest with the citizens of Atlantic City has cost them their credibility with voters. The head of the petition committee declared in The Press of Atlantic City that Callaway had no involvement in the referendum when in fact he circulated the petition and garnered many of the signatures. Leaders of the Atlantic County Republican Party denied any involvement in the “yes” campaign when in fact Assemblyman Don Guardian signed the petition and the Republican County Chair has been actively strategizing with members of the petition committee2. Why the absence of transparency?
Not once have the proponents acknowledged that May elections would cost Atlantic City residents at least $50,0003, with some estimates as high as $100,000. The sheer cost of designing and printing ballots, renting polling locations, added police personnel, salary of poll workers and elections staff, and other ancillary costs will undoubtedly raise taxes. This is precisely why Jersey City, which happens to be another heavily-Democratic municipality, moved its municipal elections to November, which saved taxpayer dollars and significantly improved voter turnout. It’s precisely why nearly every Board of Education in the state moved its elections to November, saving the state millions of dollars a year.
I do not live in Atlantic City, and the “yes” vote campaigners, I’m sure, will accuse me of being an “outsider” who has “undue influence” over Atlantic City. My expertise and authority on Atlantic City matters doesn’t come from the fact that I’m County Democratic Chairman, nor from my experience working on Atlantic City bills and public policy in the State Legislature, nor from my graduate education in public administration; rather, my perspective comes from the democratically-elected Atlantic City Democratic Committee.
There are 21 voting precincts across all six wards in Atlantic City, each of which elect a man and a woman. These 42 dedicated, hard-working men and women serve as the eyes and ears for literally every neighborhood in Atlantic City. It’s an incredibly diverse group of African-American, Hispanic, South Asian, Asian, and Caucasian individuals. I know all of them personally, and many I consider personal friends. They have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on in their communities, and what I’ve learned from these 42 individuals, and what I’ve learned from hundreds of average citizens I’ve spoken to throughout Atlantic City, is that they’re concerned about kitchen table issues: affordability, healthcare, clean and safe streets. Residents are far more concerned about paying their rent or mortgage, putting their kids through college, and getting bad guys off the streets. The silly topic of when elections are held never once entered their head until a month or two ago.
The voters of Atlantic City are smart. They saw through this charade two years ago when they overwhelmingly rejected a similar referendum. I urge the residents of Atlantic City to solidify control of their city and once again vote “No” on this farce.
- Turnout for the recent Greater Egg Harbor School Board election was approximately 12% and the last municipal elections in Essex County, which the proponents cite, was 12%.
- I have had multiple conversations with operatives and elected officials in the past few months who have told me that the Republican County Chair and/or his operatives have reached out to them to support the referendum.
- There are 21 voting precincts in Atlantic City, each requiring six poll workers (three Democrat, three Republican). They are now paid $300 for the day, so for Election Day itself the cost alone for poll workers, not including couriers, team leaders, etc., is $37,800. Add overtime cost for police, the compensation offered to locations that are polling places, the aforementioned couriers and team leads, the printing and mailing of mail-in ballots (which you need to offer), and costs to the County Board of Elections and you’re easily over $50,000.