I wanted to take this opportunity to respond to Michael Laser’s letter to the editor published in the September 26, 2019 edition of the Montclair Local. First and foremost, it has always been my policy to respond to citizens who contact me directly, and to provide answers to questions asked by the public during Freeholder Board Meetings.
With respect to the issue of transparency, it is my hope that our new website will allow all members of the Freeholder Board to share their views publicly, and address various issues of concern in a transparent fashion. Two specific issues that have garnered a great amount of public attention are Essex County’s contract with ICE, and the need to replace county voting machines. Over the last year, I have met with community organizations, members of the County Administration, the clergy, and a multitude of concerned citizens on these issues. During this process, I have been open in expressing my position, while doing my best to keep the public informed.
Regarding the voting machines, I have been an active leader in advocating for Essex County to purchase machines that employ the use of optical scanners and verifiable hand-marked paper ballots for quite some time. I have stated this on record at multiple Freeholder Board Meetings, and I articulated this position in an Op-Ed published by the Star-Ledger on April 22, 2019. This Op-Ed, titled The Urgency of Protecting our Voting Process, Our Elections, and Our Democracy, can be found on our new website. Additionally, I recently participated in a nationwide Secure the Vote Rally with organizations such as BlueWave NJ, Our Revolution Essex, and the SOMA Action Committee to make my position clear on the need for the county to purchase and implement these machines.
As part of the Essex County’s Pilot Program, this upcoming Election Day, November 5, 2019, voters at the Montclair Fire House on Pine Street will use machines that employ optical scanners and hand-marked verifiable paper ballots. Although the Essex County Board of Elections will make the final decision on the purchase of these machines, I am confident that we can meet the goal of having them in place at all Essex County polling places by the general election of 2020.
Protecting the accuracy and veracity of our election results is an issue of the highest urgency. As President of the Board of Freeholders, and as a citizen who values democracy, I will continue to advocate for the exclusive use of paper ballot voting machines throughout Essex County.
My position on the County’s contract with ICE consists of three points of focus:
- Providing universal legal representation for undocumented detainees being held in the Essex County Correctional Facility due to their immigration status
- Establishing an Independent Citizen Oversight Committee of the ECCF
- Implementing a plan for Essex County to engage in a responsible wind-down of the contract
Earlier this year, the County Administration accepted my proposal to provide funds in this year’s budget for the legal services of undocumented detainees. I am proud of this significant first step on the pathway towards universal legal representation, and I will continue to work towards that goal. In addition, I have been working with the ACLU and the County Administration on implementing the FIRST Independent Citizen Oversight Committee of a county correctional facility. During this process, I will continue to encourage the administration to wind down the contract with ICE in a responsible manner.
As a lifelong resident of Montclair, I care deeply about the concerns voiced by our community on these issues, and I have done my best to respond. Our community has a history of activism and engagement, and it is great to see the continuation of this legacy.