Tie may offer second chance for nonvoters


By: Packet Editorial
   Somewhere in Princeton Borough today, there are at least a few individuals — the homeowner who pays property taxes, the parent who’s sending his or her children to the public schools, the lifelong resident who went through the Princeton Regional school system — who have got to be kicking themselves for not bothering to vote in Tuesday’s school election.
   All of these people had a stake in this election, yet they stayed away from the polls — in droves. Only 519 borough residents voted Tuesday; another 13 cast absentee ballots. That’s a turnout of less than 9 percent. To call such apathy disgraceful would be generous.
   But that’s not the half of it. This is one of those elections civic-minded do-gooders are talking about when they say: Your vote could make a difference. Only in this case, anyone in Princeton Borough who didn’t vote Tuesday now knows his or her vote would have made the difference in the race for the borough seat on the Princeton Regional Board of Education.
   It may yet be that a recount, which will likely take place next week, could break the 254-254 tie between incumbent Frank Strasburger and challenger Michael Mostoller. But in the much likelier event that the results stand — after all, how much chance is there to miscount the votes when so few of them are cast? — the seat will remain vacant until a new election can be scheduled. That will be May 14 at the earliest, and the winner of that election (if it doesn’t end in another tie) would be seated May 20.
   This seems a far less interesting though much fairer way to resolve the matter than, say, the way we decide the presidency. Imagine the excitement that would be generated if this case went from the local election board to the county election board to the Secretary of State to the state Supreme Court and finally to the Supreme Court of the United States — with accusations of fraud, angry demonstrations and 24-hour-a-day media coverage every step of the way. Consider, too, how much more fascinating it would be for the nation’s highest tribunal to rationalize a ruling in the case of Mostoller v. Strasburger (or would it be Strasburger v. Mostoller?) than it was to decide Bush v. Gore (or was it Gore v. Bush?), since neither candidate in this case is running with a party affiliation.
   Then again, the tie vote for a seat on the Princeton Regional Board of Education could be settled in the same, extraordinarily creative way the New Jersey state Senate has resolved its own 20-20 split — by sharing power on a rotating basis. The Rev. Strasburger could be seated for the first hour of a board meeting, Mr. Mostoller for the second, and they could rotate at 15-minute intervals thereafter. Or Mr. Mostoller could serve on odd-numbered days and the Rev. Strasburger on even-numbered days (excluding Sundays, of course, in deference to his calling). Or they could alternate from week to week, or month to month. What fun!
   We have no way of knowing, of course, if the result would have been any different had the turnout in Princeton Borough been higher. Perhaps the Strasburger-Mostoller race still would have ended in a tie, and the larger turnout would have brought with it an unwanted outpouring of votes against the school budget, putting its passage in jeopardy. (There is a theory that opening the polls only from 4 to 9 p.m., as Princeton does for school elections, attracts voters who have a particular interest in the schools, such as teachers and active parents, but keeps more marginal voters away, thereby suppressing the anti-budget vote. But that’s the subject for another editorial.)
   If a new election is necessary, and we suspect it will be, Princeton Borough residents who passed up the opportunity this week to choose a representative to the school board would be foolish to throw away a second chance. The Rev. Strasburger and Mr. Mostoller owe it to their supporters to put their credentials, qualifications and positions on the issues before the voters a second time. And the voters owe it to themselves to exercise the fundamental right so many of them neglected to exercise earlier this week.