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‘Common Ground’ Project Brings Together Divided Voters

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BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. (WLVT) - New Jersey voters found common ground at a recent event held at the Embassy Suites in Berkeley Heights, N.J.

A survey conducted in U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski’s 7th Congressional District revealed majorities of Republicans and Democrats actually agree on several reforms.

Among them: greater disclosure of campaign financing, limiting lobbying and preventing gerrymandering.

The survey results were released during a town hall with Rep. Malinowski and a representative sampling of the 478 people who took an extensive online survey. The project was organized by the nonpartisan groups Common Ground Solutions and Voice of the People, in conjunction with the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland.

“Too often we don’t know how political decisions get made and too often we don’t know how we can get involved in making a meaningful change," said Howard Konar, founder of Common Ground Solutions. “In short, the people that we talked to are losing faith in our ability to govern ourselves and find lasting solutions to really important problems.”

Konar founded Common Ground seven years ago.

“I was alarmed even then at the level of partisanship and hostility that I felt was causing gridlock and holding our country back,” he said. “My goal was to help people find and become more engaged in political life.”

About 45 people participated in the event. Voters registered as Republicans and Democrats sat at the same tables as they discussed the issues and findings. Organizers said the results show more people agree across party lines than you might think.

“I think campaign finance is issue one because it affects everything else,” said Malinowski, a Democrat in his first term. “Our broken system is why voters don’t get the results they look for...Congress struggles to pass bills. It’s special interests who have more influence than the voters who send us there. If we can fix that, we can solve everything else.”

New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District includes Hunterdon County and parts of Warren, Morris, Somerset, Union and Essex counties.

“I’m actually at a point where I find myself so mired in all sorts or partisan disputes and I’m part of the divisiveness if you will,” Westfield resident Steven Gorelick said. “I heard there might be an opportunity to at least get a glimpse of some common ground. I came with skepticism and was happily surprised."

Gorelick took the survey and said he was glad to be invited to the citizen panel.

“I was surprised especially at the results about campaign finance and reducing the interests of special interest and to make it more possible for smaller contributors to participate,” Gorelick said. “In my current state of divisiveness I might have expected the parties to differ and I didn’t find that. Yes, there were some differences, but in another life I worked as a statistician, but I saw some differences without distinction and I saw a rough consensus for some solutions, and I was quite encouraged by that."

Click here to view the survey findings and recommendations.