UNION, NJ — In the weeks leading up to Nov. 3 board of education election in Union, the contest grew hotly contested and divisive. At one point, 11 candidates were battling for three open, full-term seats, taking part in a wide-ranging dialogue in public forums and at residents’ doors.
But such a conversation was noticeably absent for the fourth open seat, an unexpired, one-year term sought after by a single candidate, eventual winner Steven Le.
For Union resident Eva Vieira, that wasn’t good enough. Just hours before election day, at around 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 2, Vieira threw her hat into the ring as a write-in candidate for the unexpired term, posting about the 11th-hour decision online and telling her friends.
“I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t like to see that in any of the lines, where you go to vote, I don’t think there should ever be one candidate running. Then it’s just given to them. And especially with a board of education race,” said Vieira.
But the widespread support Vieira received, from voters who wanted to support her message of political participation, blew the first-time candidate away.
“I’m not a politician. I don’t like politicians. I had no expectations of winning, but I wanted to send out a message. And I think we did.”
By the end of election day, more than 18 percent of the election’s votes were listed as “personal choice” on the Union County Clerk’s website, or 279 of the total 1,539 votes cast. It was a far cry from other elections across the county, where the typical number of write-ins was under a percentage point.
“I was really touched by that, and it sparked up a little fire in me,” said Vieira. “It made me feel like I’m doing the right thing.”
Le, who was part of the otherwise unsuccessful 2-3-4 ticket in the board of education race, still won handily. The election didn’t go down to the wire.
But the goal wasn’t to win, said Vieira. It was to remind residents that their voice matters. In Union, after all, a 45-minute campaign was able to win over a significant chunk of voters.
“I really want people to know that you can make a change. You can really do something. It doesn’t take much, it just takes the courage to go out there and say something,” said Vieira. “Instead of sitting back and looking at what’s wrong, do something about it. And people listen to that, and people are receptive to that. I think that’s what I’m happy came out of this.”
Union residents weren’t happy about the lack of competition for the fourth seat, and the write-in votes reflected that, said Vieira, who was associated with the winning 1-5-8 ticket of David Arminio, Guy Francis and Jeffrey Monge.
And while the turnout for local elections was very low, including in Union, Vieira wanted to remind people to avoid taking their votes for granted. Voting is how to express displeasure with people in power, stamp out politics in the board of education and make real progress, according to Vieira.
“This was my 24-hour stint in politics,” said Vieira, who added that she’s unsure if she’ll run again in 2016. “If I think there are people running who stand for the right things, and share the same concerns as the parents and the homeowners, I will do everything in my power to get them there. If there is no one running, if I don’t like what I see up there, then maybe I will.”