The Orthodox Union is rallying the community to vote — with a little help from a Facebook billionaire.
Teach NJS, the OU’s initiative to increase state aid to yeshivas and other private schools, is urging Jews to go to teachnjs.turbovote.org. There they can check their voter registration status and sign up to receive reminders about when and where to vote.
Turbovote.org is a project of Democracy Works, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that wants to see 80 percent of eligible American voters actually voting by 2024. Funded by leading foundations and such for-profit companies as Google and Facebook, its board members include Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder who for a time owned the New Republic magazine.
For Teach NJS, increasing voter turnout is part of its strategy to get the day school community to have a greater impact in Trenton.
“We want to make it easier for people to register,” Josh Caplan, TeachNJ’s executive director, said. His office is in Teaneck; he lives in Edison. “In the Jewish community, we don’t realize the impact we can have by voting. There’s a really important election coming up. In order to make change and make an impact we need to vote in greater numbers.”
While many people consider the central issue in the election this November will be which party will control Congress, Mr. Caplan and Teach NJS are focused on the question of increasing state support for non-public schools.
“In order to make changes and make an impact we need to vote in greater numbers,” Mr. Caplan said.
He said the budget the state government passed this summer shows the need for the Jewish community to be more engaged in voting and advocacy. “Public schools were given a large increase in security funding, to the tune of $87 million,” he said. “Non-public schools — which include our Jewish day schools — were not given more. It’s unfair. It’s unacceptable. It’s an injustice.
“If we want to correct the injustice we need to come out and vote in greater numbers,” he said.
What is the turnout like among his constituency?
“It varies year to year, community to community,” he replied. “In the New York primaries, there were candidates who lost because they ignored our communities and candidates who won because they addressed the issues of our communities. We’re trying to get our communities to come out in more meaningful numbers.”
TurboVote will let citizens know when there is an election — and what the election is for. Mr. Caplan noted that in District 38, which includes parts of Bergenfield, Paramus, and Fair Lawn, among other towns, seats in the state Assembly are up for election. In April, Assemblyman Joseph Lagan was named to the state Senate after state Senator Robert Gordon joined the state Board of Public Utilities and the other District 38 assemblyman, Tim Eustace, resigned.
Democratic officials named former Fair Lawn Mayor Lisa Swain and former Bergenfield Council President Chris Tully to the open seats. Now they are up for election to fill out the second year of their predecessors’ two-year terms, facing off against Republicans Jayme Ouellette and Gail Horton.
“It’s a district that includes some major communities,” Mr. Caplan said.
And it’s important.
“The Assembly people have a tremendous impact on how state funds go to day schools for nursing and technology,” he said. “The beauty of TurboVote is that it will tell you that this election is happening and will remind you to vote. If they are going to vote, we want them to know there is an assembly race.”
Mr. Caplan said the state budget that was hammered out this summer was disappointing for his organization.
“The bottom line is that in all the areas of school aid where there were cuts in the governor’s initial budget, funding was restored to the previous levels,” he said. “That’s really not good enough. Particularly in the security area. For the state to say our kids don’t deserve funding to protect their lives and safety is unacceptable. We expect better from our state politicians. They really failed us this time.
“Our community knows about this and going forward our community will not accept being treated as second-class citizens,” he continued. “Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists — we all feel cheated, we’re all taxpayers, and each of our kids’ safety is equally important. We need more than just lip service. We need the state to act and won’t stand down until this happens.”