Sunday, March 29, 2015

Shame vs. Blame

It sounds like we set a new record in Arlington for the lowest turnout in a Town Election yesterday. Just 9.11% of registered voters made it to the polls.

See election results here:

The biggest congratulations this morning go to the 2,697 people that showed up and voted. There were 26,900 people in town that stayed home. My biggest disappointment is in the 3,400 or so that usually do go out and vote in Town elections but chose not to this year.

I know there wasn't much to get excited about, the election was considerably early this year, and the weather was miserable; but your town needs you to step up and do your job, even when it isn't exciting.

OK, enough of a lecture for now.

How did the exceptionally low turnout yesterday impact the results?

When we talk about the town-wide offices there were two contested races: a three-way race for two seats on the School Committee, and a head-to-head race for a seat on the Board of Assessors.

The low turnout had no impact on the outcome of those races.

For Assessor, Kevin Feeley received 64.62% of the vote compared to 35.09% for challenger Stephen Harrington.

For the School Committee, incumbent Cindy Starks received 39.70%, incumbent Jeffrey Thielman received 36.67%, and challenger Alexis Moisand received 23.12%.

What kept people at home yesterday? An earlier than usual election date may have been a factor. Possibly the early date combined with the harsh winter this year has a lot of people still in hibernation mode. Certainly the relative lack of contested races and the lousy weather were the biggest culprits.

The number of people that stayed home was so great that it is very difficult to argue that voters favoring one candidate over another stayed home in greater numbers, hence the low turnout did not impact the outcomes.

A more typical turnout of twenty-odd percent would not have changed those percentages much, if any. In order to tighten up the results at all it would be necessary for an overwhelming majority of residents that stayed home to cast their ballots differently than their neighbors that did make it out and vote.

What makes a Moisand supporter less likely to want to go outside in the bad weather than a Starks supporter? A Harrington supporter compared to a Feeley supporter?

There is the ballot question to consider. The town voted 78.41% in favor of increasing the number of liquor licenses the Board of Selectmen can grant by five. Looking at previous election results in Arlington, I think this question performed roughly 16.5% better than it typically has. It’s a tough thing to pin down, and people’s attitudes toward alcohol being served in restaurants has also shifted rapidly over the last several years, and some alcohol related questions are more directly equivalent to yesterday’s than others.

Yet again though, what makes a Moisand supporter more anti-alcohol than supporters of Starks and Thielman? Does such a difference exist in the supporters of Feeley or Harrington? Not that I’m aware of. Further, if this difference were real, it certainly wouldn’t be sufficient to change the outcome of the Assessors race, and I don’t think the outcome of the School Committee race either.

All that said, yesterday’s exceptionally low turnout may have had a real impact on Town Meeting races.

One candidate on the ballot for Town Meeting was elected yesterday with 27 votes. The difference between getting elected and not getting elected in many races came down to very, very few votes - not unusual in Town Meeting elections. However with turnout as low as it was, this person voting rather than that person could easily change the outcome.

What I think we saw in Town Meeting races was the distilled wisdom of the most informed and dedicated voters in Arlington making their decisions about who should represent them in Town Meeting.

That’s not to say that I approve of the low turnout. We need people to be more responsible than we saw yesterday.

While I believe Arlington can weather one election like this, and I don’t think the outcome would have been much different with better turnout, it is a blemish on our record of civic investment in Arlington.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

My Picks for the 2015 Annual Town Election

No comments:
The polls opened just a few minutes ago. When I get my shoes on and make it down there, here's how I'm voting, from the bottom of the ballot up:

Alcohol License Ballot Question: "Shall the BOS be authorized to grant up to 5 additional license?"
I'm voting Yes.

Precinct 4 Town Meeting members for 3 years, vote for up to 4. I'm voting for 3:
Aimee Taberner
George Laite
Clarissa Rowe

The other 2 on the ballot haven't shown up much. If you're curious about the attendance records of Town Meeting members on the ballot this year from other precincts, I've written about that in my post 2015 Annual Town Election - Town Meeting Candidates.

Arlington Housing Authority for 5 Years; uncontested; I'm voting for Joseph Daly. Thanks Joseph for doing the job.

School Committee for 3 years, vote for up to 2. I'm voting for:
Jeffrey Thielman
Cindy Starks

Newcomer Alexis Moisand is hoping to unseat one of these 2 veteran incumbents. I believe they deserve to keep their jobs, and Alexis hasn't had a chance yet to show me that he has the experience and skills to do the job.

Assessor for 1 year to fill a vacancy; uncontested. I'm voting for Robert Greeley. Thanks for your service, Robert.

Assessor for 3 years, vote for 1. I'm voting for:
Kevin Feeley

His opponent, Stephen Harrington, is very smart and frequently raises interesting questions. If you observe town politics you also know that he has a reputation for not getting along with people. Not a good quality to have for this position.

Selectman for 3 years, vote for up to 2; uncontested. I'm voting for:
Steven Byrne
Joseph Curro

I will say that I did not vote for Steven Byrne 3 years ago. He was young and didn't have a record I could look at and determine that he had the qualifications to do the job. I've been pleased with the work he has done the last 3 years, and would vote for him this year if he did have an opponent.

Happy Voting Arlington!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Don't Vote This Year

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With the Town Election happening this Saturday my advice to the voters of Arlington is this:

Don’t vote for candidates you do not know would be good at the job.

Do of course turn out and vote. There aren't many contested open seats for town wide offices. As a result I think turnout will be especially low this year, but would love to discover that I’m wrong.

This year I’m interested in seeing what happens way, way down on the ballot in the Town Meeting races.

If voters approach their ballots under the false idea that filling in the full number of ovals allowed is the responsible thing to do, not a lot will change.

If though voters realize that the statement “Vote for not more than four” does not mean that they should vote for four as if they were cleaning up their dinner plates in sympathy with children elsewhere that were starving, and instead only cast votes for candidates they have learned will do the job, we could see some shifts in many precincts, and the removal of members that have failed to attend Town Meeting for - in some cases - years.

So my hope for this election is that voters fill in the ovals on their ballots *on purpose,* for good reasons.

I have compiled a spreadsheet showing attendance records of all members on the ballot this year, and posted it here.

I encourage people to look up who is on the ballot in their precinct, and make an informed choice.

This is also the first year voters can actually review how their Town Meeting members voted on articles in Town Meeting.

There are links at the bottom of this page that say :“Votes Utilizing Electronic Voting System.”

By finding what night the issue you are curious about was voted on here, that’s the link from “2014 ATM and STM Voting by Article,” you can look up the voting records for that night and see how your Town Meeting members voted.

For example, you can review whether or not your Town Meeting members voted to put the issue of adopting the Community Preservation Act before the town by following this link and looking at the column labeled “Article 22: ACCEPTANCE OF LEGISLATION/COMMUNITY PRESERVATION ACT”:

Transparency in the operations of our local government is slowly coming. As it does so the question becomes: will the voters take advantage of it?