Sunday in the park with early voting
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Sunday in the park with early voting

Teach NJ uses kosher barbecue and balloons to spur turnout

Young families gather in Teaneck’s Votee Park for kosher barbecue — and
perhaps early voting.
Young families gather in Teaneck’s Votee Park for kosher barbecue — and perhaps early voting.

Sunday was a fine day to leave the house, meander on over to Teaneck’s Votee Park, grab a balloon for your child, sample some kosher barbecue from a food truck — and then cross the parking lot and enter the Richard Rodda Community Center, stand in line, and take part in the new-to-New-Jersey ritual of Sunday early voting.

That was “The Great Big Vote,” a party organized by Teach NJ, the Orthodox Union’s organization that lobbies for state aid to private schools. Teach NJ provided the balloons and a disk jockey playing Hebrew music and invitations to the kosher food trucks. The county board of elections provided voting booths.

The warm, family-friendly fall weather, with just a hint of gray in the sky that would later, toward sunset, break into a rainbow, was the responsibility of a higher authority.

A rainbow arcs over a Teach NJ get-out-the-vote lawn sign.

“It was a fantastic turnout,” Benjamin Hutt, one of Teach NJ’s two regional field directors, said the next day. He estimated that more than 1,500 people “across all age groups,” came to the party. It was impossible to know how many of them went on to vote, but some of those Sunday voters reported long lines. All told, across the state more than 200,000 New Jerseyans took part in early voting over the nine-day early voting period that ended on Sunday.

This was the first early voting event hosted by Teach NJ, and none of the four other state organizations under the OU’s Teach umbrella — Teach NY, Teach Pennsylvania, Teach Florida, and Teach Maryland — have held such an event, according to Mimi Jankovits, the Teach Coalition’s national grassroots director. Ms. Jankovits, who lives in Florida but was visiting Teaneck, noted that early voting is no longer a novelty back home.

Increasing voter turnout among its constituents is a key part of Teach Coalition’s advocacy strategy; because politicians respond to people who vote, not the ones who stay home on Election Day and complain about election results later, the more private school supporters vote, the more potent their voices will be. Therefore, Teach NJ carried out a variety of get-out-the-vote activities before Election Day.

“We had massive phone calling and texting campaigns,” Mr. Hutt said. “We have lawn signs up all over the state.

Teach NJ’s Benjamin Hutt at “The Great Big Vote” in Teaneck last Sunday.

“We also registered high school students to vote in a lot of the high schools in the area.”

Additionally, the Jewish schools Teach NJ works with, as well as Orthodox Union-affiliated synagogues, sent out emails urging people to vote. Teach NJ does not endorse political candidates.

It is of course too soon to tell whether all these efforts moved the dial on the Jewish community’s voting this year. According to Mr. Hutt, in the last gubernatorial election in 2017, the Jewish community’s turnout in Bergen County was just slightly below overall turnout, which was 42 percent. “The Jewish community was about 40 percent,” he said.

While which candidate a voter casts a vote for is secret, the fact that the ballot has been cast is public information. In recent years, political campaigns have accumulated detailed databases of voters, combining public voting information with information from other sources. Teach NJ similarly tracks the voting history of its constituents. “We have a very well set-up voter campaign,” Mr. Hutt said.

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