Take Voting Places Out Of Our Schools, Toms River Board Urges

TOMS RIVER, NJ — The Toms River Regional Board of Education again is urging the Ocean County Board of Elections to remove polling places from schools in Toms River so it can remove virtual instruction days from its school calendar.

The Board of Education approved the 2024-25 school calendar on Wednesday evening in a 6-3 vote that very easily could have failed as at least three members said they were voting yes but are vehemently opposed to the virtual instruction dates that are scheduled for Nov. 5, 2024 and June 3, 2025.

Nov. 5, 2024 is the 2024 General Election, and June 3, 2025 is the 2025 Primary Election. The district had virtual instruction on Nov. 7, 2023, for the 2023 General Election, and has a remote instruction day scheduled for June 4, 2024 for the 2024 Primary.

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There are 11 schools in the district out of 18 that host polling places, all of them in Toms River. Beachwood, Pine Beach and South Toms River do not use schools as polling places.

According to the list of polling places for the 2023 general election, Toms River is one of five towns in Ocean County where the polling places are in the schools. It has by far the largest percentage with 25 out of Toms River’s 63 voting districts in schools; the bulk of them in the elementary schools. Cedar Grove Elementary has the most, with five voting districts, while Joseph A. Citta, Hooper Avenue, Silver Bay and West Dover have two polling districts each. East Dover, Walnut Street and Washington Street each have one. Toms River High School North has five voting districts, and Toms River East has one, while Intermediate North has two and Intermediate East has one.

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Toms River High School South and North Dover Elementary are the only schools in Toms River that do not host polling sites. Intermediate South is in Beachwood and is not used as a polling place.

Lakewood, with 43 polling districts, has just seven of them in schools, using the high school, middle school and one elementary school. Barnegat, which has 15 districts, has two at Russell O. Brackman Middle School. Stafford Township uses Ocean Acres Elementary School for five of its 21 voting districts, and Berkeley Township uses the conference room at the district’s administration building at the rear of Central Regional High School for one polling district.

Brick Township, which has the second-highest number of polling sites in Ocean County, has none of its 57 districts in the town’s schools. Jackson Township, which has 34 voting districts, also does not use its schools for polling places.

In August 2022 Superintendent Michael Citta said his goal was to get polling places out of the schools in Toms River to eliminate what had been three days off in November preceding the New Jersey teachers convention weekend, to increase continuity in the early part of the year.

Schools had been closing on the November election day for several years, and some districts, including Toms River Regional, had moved to close the full week.

The district — like most others — has invested in significant security measures over the past five years, including secure vestibules, ID scanning and more to keep students and staff safe within the buildings and keep people who should not be there out.

On election days, however, the restrictive access has to be loosened for people voting.

“I can’t even go into my child’s school without showing ID,” board member Anna Polozzo said in voting no on the calendar, voicing her opposition to using the schools for voting.

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Melissa Morrison and Ashley Lamb also voted no on the calendar. The remaining board members — Lisa Contessa, Michele Williams, Jennifer Howe, Joseph Nardini, Kathy Eagan and Kevin Kidney — voted yes, noting that the calendar can be updated and expressing frustrations over the continued voting in the schools.

“I don’t know why they (the Board of Elections) is not responding to us,” Howe said.

“We know virtual learning is not the way to learn,” Morrison said.

The board voted unanimously to an added resolution to draft a letter urging the Board of Elections again to remove polling districts from the schools.

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