Teach NJ, the Orthodox Union’s New Jersey advocacy project, is pointing to an increase in voter turnout in Teaneck’s recent municipal elections as a sign that its get-out-the-vote efforts work.
Though maybe the term shouldn’t be turnout but rather turn in, since all voters received a mail-in ballot because of the dangers of in-person voting during a pandemic.
In any case, “In the four districts we focused on, 54 percent of all voters voted,” Renee Klyman said. Ms. Klyman is grassroots director of Teach NJ, which aims to increase state aid to yeshivas and other private schools. By contrast, she said, only 33 percent of voters sent in their ballots in other Teaneck districts.
She said Teach NJ worked with the local Jewish day schools and synagogues and volunteers to reach out to 750 Teaneck voters to engage them in the election process.
“Voting is an aspect of being a model activist,” she said. “So much of our work depends on our community members and our voters.”
She said Teach NJ wants its constituents to become voters who vote in every election.
Even before covid-19 turned the May election into a vote-by-mail exercise — as is now the case with the upcoming July primaries — Teach NJ was encouraging its activists to sign up to vote by mail.
Voting by mail, Danny Aqua said, increases voter turn out by a small but significant percentage.
Mr. Aqua is the field director for the Florida equivalent of Teach NJ.
“It’s a common misconception that Jews vote at a tremendously high rate,” Mr. Aqua said. “It might be slightly higher than the average but just by setting up a simple get-out-the-vote operation, educating them about polling places and vote by mail opportunities, we’re able to really impact the rates in our community.”
Some of the process involved working with the Jewish day schools and synagogues to create “chains of activists.” And some involved using the sort of tools and software that political campaigns use to identify voters from publicly available voting lists, and to then track whether they had returned their ballots — and reach out to them if they hadn’t.
Teach NJ was urging turnout, not voting for particular candidates. The Teaneck council slate, which included Orthodox candidates, was victorious by a few hundred votes.
Now, before the July 7 primary, Teach NJ is widening its net to target its constituents statewide. It hopes that turning its constituents into regular voters is just the first step in turning them into impactful local political activists.
“So much of it is the relationship with local elected representatives,” Mr. Aqua said. “It’s staggering, the numbers of people who don’t know the names of their state representatives. Just by engaging people in one step of this project” — voting — “leads to what is most important, the relationship with local officials.”
Those relationships are already paying off for the the day school community, Ms. Klyman said, noting the success of the Teach NJ’s legislative goals in Trenton. “Last year we doubled the state security funding allocation from $75 to $150 for each non-public school student,” she said. “That was $22 million in security aid for non-public school students.”
And then there is a new program “to bring unionized public school teachers into our non-public school to teach STEM. Their salaries are paid by the state. It’s an opportunity to bring highly qualified teachers into our schools.”
So how to engage? Teach NJ has partnered with a nonpartisan voting project and has a website, teachnjs.turbovote.org, where voters can sign up to receive information about when and where to vote.
“You can get text reminders and email reminders,” Ms. Klyman said. “It’s a great resource.”