NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers University Junior Asad Asif was inaugurated earlier this month as a member of the Middlesex County Republican Committee, a position to which he was unanimously elected with one vote, his own.
Asif, age 19, did not go into the June 3 primary election with any expectation of taking office three days later, nor did he vote for himself for selfish reasons.
Asif explained to New Brunswick Today, “It was kind of like the ‘Mickey Mouse vote,’ where people write in stupid names when they vote for president. I wanted to do the same thing, and since there was no real candidate in the slot, I decided to write myself in.”
But Asif's ballot was the only one that included a vote for the Committeeman position for Old Bridge's Ward 6, District 7.
So he got the position, allowing him to be a voting member of both the Middlesex County Republican Organization (MCRO) and Old Bridge Republican Committee. Each group helps decide which candidates get the official "party line" endorsement in local, county, legislative and statewide elections.
Asif’s election may seem miraculous, but the truth is that the Middlesex County Committee has over a thousand seats, with two for each and every neighborhood-sized district in the county.
NJ State law mandates that each district has both a male and female representative for its County Committee, the only such political office in the state.
Only about half of the Republicans' seats are filled currently, according to the MCRO's Chairman, State Senator Sam Thompson of Old Bridge.
Thompson admitted that the Democratic Committee has a higher percentage of seats filled than the Republicans do.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the county seat, New Brunswick. The city has 28 districts, making for 56 seats on each committee, Republican and Democrat.
The Democrats have all 56 of their seats filled, as longtime Mayor James Cahill runs unopposed for an unprecedented seventh term.
Meanwhile, only seven members make up the Republican committee including a couple who won by writing themselves in, according to New Brunswick Republican Organization President Joy Sheehan.
"It would be good if we could grow and get a presence in the Rutgers community. We'd love to have more college kids involved," said Sheehan.
Senator Thompson was unsure whether any other Rutgers students currently serve on the County Republican Committee, adding that “several Rutgers alums have recently made names for themselves in politics.”
Mike Duhaime, who graduated from Rutgers in 1995, helped Governor Christie’s election campaign and transition into office, and is also involved in national campaigns. Duhaime now teaches in Rutgers’ Political Science Department.
Matt Mowers, Rutgers grad and ex-regional director for Christie’s re-election campaign, is now executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party.
Both Duhaime and Mowers have faced questions about their role in the high-profile George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal. Mowers was asked to testify before a legislative committee investigating the matter earlier this year.
Middlesex County Democratic Organization Chairman Kevin McCabe and New Brunswick Democratic Organization Chairman TK Shamy did not respond to messages asking how many Rutgers students serve on their committees.
Though Asif was sworn in to the Republican Committee, he does not like to affiliate himself too strongly with a single party, and in any case, he does not entirely believe in the position he has accepted.
“If I’m going to donate my time, it’ll be to my religion or to an actual charity that helps people,” Asif said.
Asif, a Muslim, had a difficult time getting inaugurated to begin with. At the Old Bridge Town Clerk’s office, the employees all gave him “dirty looks” when he requested to be sworn in on a Quran rather than a Bible.
During his first Committee meeting on June 9, Asif was surprised to discover that he is not the only Muslim on the Committee. Asif was joined in his religious affiliation by a middle-aged woman who immigrated from India.
Asif told New Brunswick Today he was confident in his abilities to perform his duty as a member of the County Committee, which include marshalling votes in his ward and district and to help select candidates for future elections.
He said, “I know a lot of young people in Middlesex County and I could probably drum up minority votes.”
When asked what he envisions this leading to in the future, Asif said he’d like to run for a position in which, rather than just drumming up votes, “I’d at least be able to help my local community by voicing local opinions and making decisions that would help people.”
In Senator Thompson's words, “If you want to make a difference, you need to be involved.”
In reference to the committee’s many vacancies and the many students at Rutgers eager to get started in politics, Thompson said, “I encourage them to, hey, give us a call.”
In other words, it is not as difficult to get started in county politics as one might believe. Asif’s self-election, though unexpected, is actually what county leaders are looking for—so long as the nominees have a home address within Middlesex County.
The only other requirement to serve on either political parties committees is that the candidate be a registered voter affiliated with the correct party.
Elections for Democrat Committee are held in odd-numbered years on the same ballot as the June primary, while the Republican Committee elections occur in even-numbered years.
In order to get one's name on the ballot, a petition signed by a small number of registered voters in the district must be submitted by early April. In many cases only one signature is required.
But as Asif proved, it can be possible to win office even without appearing on the ballot at all, by way of one or more write-in votes.
Asif currently studies Business Management and Physics at Rutgers University. He is planning a career in operations management, and his interests include sports journalism, animated films, and soccer.
Asif was asked if he knows anybody else who was self-elected to a government position. “No,” he said. “But I don’t know anyone who votes Republican either.”