HOWELL — Five township residents are trying to get the signatures of thousands more, in hopes of switching municipal elections to a nonpartisan format.

If this occurs, they say, elections will appeal to more voters in the town, and people will be elected based on their ideas and character, rather than the words Republican or Democrat.

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"We believe that over the last few election cycles, party politics have become so divisive in our town that it's been a disservice to residents," said Marc Parisi, one of five individuals on the committee of petitioners. "By changing to nonpartisan, we're going to open up our local elections to nearly 15,000 residents that would otherwise feel as they though they had no viable chance of winning because people are so accustomed to voting the party line."

The committee of petitioners is made up of three registered Democrats and two unaffiliated individuals — Republicans have held the majority on Township Council for many years.

"We do feel that the Republicans do dominate in Howell," said Dawn Van Brunt, another member of the Howell NJ First effort.

Ira Thor, Kathleen Novak, and Michel Bernstein round out the committee of petitioners. It's the group's goal to collect 2,300 electronic signatures from residents and submit them to the municipal clerk for verification.

"Council can then pass an ordinance changing to nonpartisan elections, or they can elect not to pass an ordinance and they can put the question on the ballot in November and let the voters decide whether or not they want this change," Parisi said. "There shouldn't be anyone that's opposed to putting the question on the ballot and letting the residents decide how they are governed."

Parisi said if the idea were to be approved by Howell voters in November, nonpartisan elections would begin in November 2022 when three Council seats will be up for grabs.

Nearly 47% of the registered voters in Howell are unaffiliated with a political party, Parisi noted.

According to the New Jersey League of Municipalities, more than 80 municipalities in the Garden State have a nonpartisan form of government. From time to time, NJLOM said, municipalities have changed their form of government to meet the needs of their community.

In 16 of New Jersey's 21 counties, there's at least one municipality that holds nonpartisan elections.

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