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Uncontested elections cost N.J. cash

There will be so few contested races in New Jersey's primary elections Tuesday that many voters won't need to bother going to the polls.

That fact places more emphasis on the need to reduce the election costs that counties pay by consolidating more elections.

Statewide, there are only a dozen contested state Senate races, two of those primaries in South Jersey — in Burlington and Camden Counties.

Only half of the 80 legislative seats in the Assembly have contested primaries.

And some New Jersey districts have absolutely no contested races at either the state, county, or municipal level.

Except for the possibility of write-in candidates, those elections are a formality. Nevertheless, ballots must be printed, machines provided, and paid poll workers assigned.

The cost, mostly paid by the counties, isn't cheap. For example, Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties each shelled out more than $500,000 for their 2010 primary elections, and then spent at least another half-million for the November general election. The state and municipalities reimburse the counties a portion of the election costs.

While the state cannot eliminate the party primaries, it could do more to cut costs and attract more voters — even in off-year elections.

First of all, New Jersey needs to consolidate as many elections as possible, rather than asking voters in some towns to come to the polls as many as five times a year.

Besides the primary and general elections, there are school board, fire district, and nonpartisan municipal elections, plus school bond referendums, which can be held four times a year. Too often, candidates are unopposed.

A recent effort by the Legislature to move annual school elections from April to coincide with November elections fell short. But that idea could save $5 million annually in election costs.

Fewer elections wouldn't just save money, however. People might become more interested in voting if they didn't feel like they were voting all the time.