Today was the New Jersey primary, and it was the first time I’ve voted since redistricting took place. My new polling location was in easy walking distance of my apartment. Which is good, because there was no parking.
I suppose that one could park in a public lot a couple of blocks away – assuming you knew where the lot was, or were willing to take the time to try and find it. And there were handicapped spaces near the building – so if you were willing to risk a ticket and seriously inconveniencing people with disabilities, then you could have parked there. But if I had driven, I’d have given up and gone home without voting.
The question then becomes, could this actually sway the election? In the race for mayor and city council, where total vote counts will number less than 5000, a small number of votes could make a difference. Importantly, the people who live within easy walking distance of the polling location are mostly university affiliates – faculty and graduate students who live on or near campus. One of the major issues in this year’s mayoral election is town-gown relations, and whether the township should attempt to block several unpopular university initiatives. It seems possible that folks who are affiliated with the university will have different preferences than those who don’t. And those closer will have an easier time voting, because of the lack of parking. In other words, because of the parking situation, a different candidate may win than if parking were plentiful.
Of course, lest you think that the pro-university candidate had an unfair advantage, it’s worth noting that today was graduation day. Which means that all of the faculty were occupied with commencement activities and even busier than usual. In other words, the date of the election made it particularly difficult for faculty to carve out time from their day to go and vote. And graduating students weren’t going to want to leave their families during the celebration to vote either. This could drive down voting for university-affiliates relative to other citizens of the township.
In our book, we argue that there are a huge number of irrelevant factors that can swing elections. From the date the election is held, to traffic and parking patterns in the area, to the weather on voting day (today is clear, but it poured all day yesterday – that would have hindered voting as well – especially for folks who walk to the polls). We’d like to think the most popular candidates will win – and often they will. But given the practical constraints of the world we live in, that’s not a sure thing.