The funeral bell tolled for the stem cell research bill on Tuesday, leaving critics and supporters alike posing reasons as to why the issue did not pass.
The bill, introduced by the New Jersey state government, would have allowed the state to borrow $450 million over a period of 10 years to fund stem cell research around the state.
Wise Young, a stem cell research activist, thinks the small percentage of registered voters who came to the polls may have been the cause.
"What drove the vote was not the fear of taxes or bonds," said Young, a neuroscience professor at Rutgers University. "I think it is the difference in voter turnout in different counties."
Young said New Jersey voters passed a $200 million open spaces act on the same day, which shows the $30 billion debt New Jersey has racked up is not why many voters chose to vote down the stem cell bill.
Even in Middlesex County, home of the university and the recently announced Stem Cell Research Institute, the bill did not pass the voters. Fifty-two percent of voters did not support it, while 48 percent did, Young said.
Young said he thinks if more University students voted, the outcome may have been different within the county.
"There were very, very few voters from Rutgers. Most students did not vote," Young said.
With two hours left to go at the polls Tuesday, only around 40 students voted in the Busch Campus Center, said Edna J Cameron, the Democrat Official challenger overlooking the polling area.
Also, the elections were on an odd year, Young said, which made it difficult to get voters out to the polls. Odd-year elections do not include national elections and so are generally not as popular as elections taking place on even years.
Young said he compiled percentages of voters by county in order to explain why he feels the absence of voters in counties sympathetic to the bill stopped it from passing.
In Bergen County, where voters supported the stem cell bill, the voter turnout was slightly under the 30 percent mark. In others pro-bill counties, such as Hudson and Essex, voter turnout was about 10 percent of voters registered. Meanwhile, in some counties where residents voted against the bill, the voter turnout was 30 percent or above. For example in Cape May, more than 40 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls, Young said.
Overall, about 25.5 percent of registered voters participated in this year's elections, as opposed to 36 percent in 2005, the last odd year election, which shows that voter turnout dwindled even more for 2007, Young said.
"This is a shockingly low turnout," Young said.
Marie Tasy of New Jersey Right to Life said she thinks voters recognized the bill involved ethical concerns. New Jersey Right to Life has taken the position that the bill allows for human cloning, while scientists such as Young insist otherwise, saying the bill only allowed scientists to clone cells.
"In the end, the public recognized that we were not misleading them and that this research did involve human cloning - and we're opposed because it is research that involves killing," Tasy said.
Tasy took issue with some administrators, who cited the University study by Economist Joseph Seneca as proof that the stem cell bill would stimulate the job market and economy of New Jersey.
She said the study warned that the benefits are only viable if stem cell treatments and cures are actually found.
Young said the advertising of advocacy groups such as NJRTL and Americans for Prosperity may have caused voters to falter.
The advocacy groups for stem cell research, he said, only spent a few hundred dollars on spreading the word about the bill, while advocacy groups such as New Jersey Right to Life and Americans for Prosperity send millions on ads.
To keep the research momentum going, the Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey is collecting funding from various sources, such as the state, the University and private donors, said Kenneth Breslauer, the vice president for health science partnerships. Breslauer said the Institute already has significant grants from the state that specifically support stem cell research, as well as funds to build the structure of the Institute.
"The construction is going forward," he said. "In the interim we're building the building, we're conducting research and if the bill passes next year we will have the full momentum still in place."
Breslauer also said he has no doubts the bill will be reformulated and passed next year. The next election, taking place in an even year including national elections, should attract more voters.
"When we repackage the referendum and place it before a broader base of voters, the citizens of New Jersey will approve support for stem cell research," Breslauer said.
© 2007 Daily Targum via U-WIRE