A mail-in ballot-only election in Newark

Six candidates are on the ballot Tuesday for three seats on the Newark School Board. Since the district regained local control of its schools in 2017, this will be the first time Newark voters will elect fully-empowered board members — not advisors — since the 1995 state takeover.

“This is an absolutely incredible time in the city’s history and the district’s,” said Newark Superintendent Roger Leon.

In this election, no one is going out to pull levers or push buttons behind a curtain, in an election with historically-low turnout across America. Voting is by mail only.

“It may send a very strong message to the citizens of Newark about the importance of voting even if they can’t actually make it to the polling site,” Leon said.

“I am very interested to see if by chance this experiment that we did not anticipate might yield more people actually participating in this voting process,” said Ronald Chaluisan-Batlle, executive director of the Newark Trust for Education. “It’s accessibility. It’s ease. It’s not going out of your way.”

Project Ready has posted a how to vote by mail video on its website. It’s one of 18 organizations partnering to encourage voting.

Chalkbeat Newark’s Devna Bose began covering the candidates before social distancing rules.

“A lot of them actually were going door to door, talking to people in person, being able to campaign as a normal campaign would. Now, they’ve largely turned to social media,” Bose said.

The Newark Trust for Education has created an online campaign central site. It includes candidate bios, policy positions and interviews in the hopes that voters will grasp the gravity of the decisions the full nine-member board must make, and soon. Currently, during the pandemic, online learning is low and the fate of some charter schools hangs in the balance.

“This is a critical time, not only in Newark, but nationally on how we move from a system that had a huge, huge disruption to a moment in time, a phase in history where we are seeing tremendous inequity play out in front of our eyes,” said Chaluisan-Batlle. “We have potentially an opportunity through collaboration, study and strategy to leave this phase in a better place. And I do believe the school board election is one piece to that puzzle.”

Newark has more than 148,000 registered voters. All ballots must be postmarked by May 12.