Board of chosen freeholders

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See also: County commission, the equivalent body in many states of the United States.

In New Jersey, the board of chosen freeholders is the county legislature in each of the state's 21 counties.

Origin[edit]

New Jersey's system of naming county legislators "freeholders" is unique in the United States. The origin of the term was in the provisions of the New Jersey State Constitution of 1776, which stated:[1]

The name "freeholder" in the "board of chosen freeholders" is because "clear estate" is also known as a freehold. "Chosen" simply means elected.

Current use[edit]

Today, state law specifies that the boards may contain between three and nine seats. Due to the small sizes of the boards and the possibility of electing an exactly split legislature with the inevitably resulting deadlock, an odd-numbered board is required. The means of election of the freeholders varies from all elected in districts to all elected at large to various systems in between. Elections are first past the post for single-member districts, and for at-large elections when only one seat is at stake. For at-large elections with more than one seat, plurality-at-large voting is used.

Depending on the county, the executive and legislative functions may be performed by the board or split. In some counties, members of the board of chosen freeholders perform both legislative and executive functions on a commission basis, with each freeholder assigned responsibility for a department or group of departments. In other counties (Atlantic, Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Mercer), there is a directly elected county executive who performs the executive functions while the board of chosen freeholders retains a legislative and oversight role. In counties without an executive, a county administrator (or county manager) may be hired to perform day-to-day administration of county functions. All of the above attributes may be changed by act of the board and a referendum, or by explicit change of the relevant laws by the New Jersey Legislature.

Board structure by county[edit]

All freeholders are elected to three-year terms.

County No. of
members
Election frequency Representation Notes References
Atlantic 9 Staggered elections Five freeholders represent equally populated districts, four are elected at-large Popularly elected county executive [2]
Bergen 7 Staggered elections Elected at-large Popularly elected county executive [3]
Burlington 5 Staggered elections Elected at-large Freeholder director is elected annually by the board from among its members [4]
Camden 7 Staggered elections Elected at-large [5]
Cape May 5 Staggered elections Elected at-large Freeholder director and freeholder deputy director elected from board at annual reorganization meeting in January [6]
Cumberland 7 Staggered elections Elected at-large Freeholder director and freeholder deputy director elected from board at annual reorganization meeting in January; appointed county administrator [7]
Essex 9 Concurrent elections Five freeholders represent equally populated districts, four are elected at-large Freeholder president and vice president serve one-year terms; popularly elected county executive [8]
Gloucester 7 Staggered elections Elected at-large Freeholder director and freeholder deputy director
Hudson 9 Concurrent elections Nine freeholders represent equally populated districts Popularly elected county executive
Hunterdon 5 Staggered elections Elected at-large Freeholder director and freeholder deputy director elected from board at annual reorganization meeting in January
Mercer 7 Staggered elections Elected at-large Board has a chair and vice-chair, these positions are rotated amongst board members each year; popularly elected county executive
Middlesex 7 Staggered elections Elected at-large In January of each year, the board reorganizes, selecting one freeholder to be freeholder director and another to be freeholder deputy director; freeholder director appoints freeholders to serve as chairpersons and members on the various committees which oversee county departments
Monmouth 5 Staggered elections Elected at-large Freeholder director and freeholder deputy director elected from board at annual reorganization meeting in January
Morris 7 Staggered elections Elected at-large Freeholder director and freeholder deputy director elected from board at annual reorganization meeting in January
Ocean 5 Staggered elections Elected at-large Appointed county administrator
Passaic 7 Staggered elections Elected at-large Freeholder director and freeholder deputy director elected from board at annual reorganization meeting in January
Salem 7 Staggered elections Elected at-large In January of each year, the board reorganizes, selecting one freeholder to be freeholder director and another to be freeholder deputy director; appointed county administrator
Somerset 5 Staggered elections Elected at-large Appointed county administrator
Sussex 5 Staggered elections Elected at-large
Union 9 Staggered elections Elected at-large Appointed county manager
Warren 3 Staggered elections Elected at-large Freeholder director and freeholder deputy director elected from board at annual reorganization meeting in January; appointed county administrator

See also[edit]

References[edit]