Sunday, September 23, 2007

Vote when to Vote!

Here's the reason I'm collecting purely anecdotal data from the new poll, above:

We normally hold the Annual Town Election (i.e., Moderator, Select Board, School Committee, Jones Library Trustee, Oliver Smith Will Elector, Redevelopment Authority (ARA), Housing Authority, Representative Town Meeting) the last Tuesday of March or first Tuesday of April. Since Easter is the second last weekend in March 2008, it appears Tuesday April 1st would be chosen for 2008 (the Annual Town Election fell on April 1st in 2003).

Here's the sticky part: the Presidential Primary in Massachusetts is Tuesday March 4, 2008. At first glance, it seems most sensible to hold both elections on that same date, rather than expecting people to show up at the polls twice within a month, and it would save roughly $12,000 in the General Fund to not have to hold separate elections. Holding separate elections only three to four weeks apart is challenging for the Town Clerk & Board of Registrars, as well. When Ms Awad brought up holding both elections on the same date at our September 10 Select Board meeting, I thought it was a terrific idea! As Mr Weiss pointed out, it would also be helpful to newly elected officials to formally participate in the budget process earlier in the budget/Town Meeting cycle (although I'll note here that there's some benefit to being able to say, I didn't vote on that budget:-). As it turns out -- of course -- it's all not as simple as we'd hoped.

A Presidential Primary already requires separate Democrat & Republican & Libertarian & Green-Rainbow ballots, and under state law we can't "add" our local questions to those ballots, so we'd need to have one separate ballot for our Annual Town Election. Each voter would cast two ballots -- if they were eligible to do so; apparently it's entirely possible someone would be entitled to a Presidential Primary ballot but not to an Annual Town Election ballot. Obviously this would all be a challenge for both the voter and the election workers!

Write-ins are likely on both the Annual Town Election ballot (especially for Representative Town Meeting) and the Presidential Primary ballot (for Hampshire & Franklin District State Committee Man and State Committee Woman, and Town Committee), and writing them on the wrong ballot would be very possible. Add in the processing of the various party absentee ballots and you'll see why this no longer seems like such a simple idea!

Most of the information I'm presenting here is from a sheet of "Talking Points for Election Timetable Analysis" that was provided in our September 24, 2007 Select Board Agenda packet (available from the Select Board office; sorry, no electronic copy at hand). It includes the fact that prior to 1996, turnout for Presidential Primaries was significantly higher than for the Annual Town Election. In 1996 the turnout was considerably higher for the Town Election than for the Presidential Primary (which was excruciatingly low). In 2000 the Presidential Primary turnout was 0.6% higher than the Annual Town Election; in 2004 the Annual Town Election turnout (28.30%) was 4.6% higher than the Presidential Primary turnout (23.70%). There is simply no guarantee that holding the Presidential Primary and the Annual Town Election at the same time will improve turnout...

...although I'm sure having an override on the 2004 Annual Town Election ballot had something to do with that year's turnout surpassing the Presidential Primary turnout.

As outlined in the "Talking Points," there are more details the Town Clerk and Board of Registrars will have to handle in terms of answering questions, publishing deadlines, how the machines will process the ballots, not tearing their hair out, etc., so feel free to refrain from sharing those details in any comments you make on this blog:-) Just make it simple: vote in the poll at the top of this blog before 6:00 pm Monday September 24. Thanks!

Note that these two images are each only the first page of the 2004 results:

Election dates in Presidential Primary years (from warrants and results:

2004: March 2, March 30 (override)
2000: March 7, March 28 (Boss/Awad race)

Last day to register to vote and/or change party enrollment for the March 4, 2008 Presidential Primary: Wednesday February 13, 2008
(likely) Last day to register to vote for a March 4, 2008 Annual Town Election: Wednesday February 13, 2008
(likely) Last day to register to vote for an April 1, 2008 Annual Town Election: Wednesday March 12, 2008


chris said...

The town elections are non-partisan but, the presidential primary is of course partisan. I think they should be separate elections - either that or make town candidates put a little (D) or (G) next to their name. Of course, there would not be any (R)s.

Alisa V. Brewer said...

Hey, Chris, c'mon: surely you noticed (71) Republican primary ballots were cast in 2004:-)

Does leave a pretty small field for "designated" Republican candidates!

Ballots cast in 2004 Presidential Primary, by party:

D 3,711
R 71
G-R 38
L 7

Registered voters in 2004, by designation:

D 7,423
U 7,123
R 1,183
G-R 236
L 122