Town meeting backs election change in close voteBy Mike Berger
In a surprise result just before midnight on Monday, May 12, voters at Canton’s annual town meeting narrowly approved a citizen’s petition to move the municipal election from April to November so that it coincides with state and federal elections in even-numbered years.
The grassroots proposal, spearheaded by Chapman Street resident Bruce Rohr in an effort to increase voter turnout, overcame a wave of opposition from town officials before prevailing in a hand vote by the slimmest of margins, 43-40.
Selectmen will now petition Canton’s two state lawmakers, Representative Bill Galvin and Senator Brian Joyce, to file special legislation allowing the town to hold its annual municipal elections “on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.” Currently, Massachusetts law mandates that all town elections must be held during the months of February, March, April, May, or June. If approved, Canton would become the first town in the commonwealth to shift its elections to the fall.
Prior to Monday’s town meeting, Representative Galvin told the Citizen that he did not personally support the measure; however, he said he would “file the petition and attempt to pass it through the legislature if that is what the town wanted.”
Monday’s historic vote came after 75 minutes of back and forth debate, and the final tally was recorded at 11:45 p.m. The FY15 town budget was approved shortly thereafter, thus concluding business on the entire 33-article warrant.
Among the supporters of Rohr’s petition were Selectman Victor Del Vecchio and former Finance Committee Chairman Dr. Patricia Johnson, who argued that “anything you can do to get a voter to a poll is a good thing.”
Responding to a complaint about the lack of education among the electorate, Johnson asked, “Education, whose fault is that? We have to do a better job.” She also felt that people tend to forget to vote in a spring election and would be more inclined to vote in November, particularly in a national or state election year.
Del Vecchio, who spoke just before the vote was called for, said the idea of moving the election had been of interest to him for the past 12 years; however, he said he chose to focus his energy on expanding the Board of Selectmen from three to five members early in his political career.
As for the notion that the town does not have enough poll workers to manage a dual election in November, Del Vecchio responded that the town needs to do a better job in attracting more poll workers and paying them more. “I have nothing against paying our younger workers $9, $10, $11 for summer jobs we (selectmen) recently appointed,” he said. “We need to increase the pay for poll workers. I am personally offended that we are not paying them enough.”
Rohr, who introduced the petition as an alternative motion after the FinCom moved to indefinitely postpone action on the article, said he knew he had very little support from town officials. But he said there are many other states and municipalities across the country — in addition to 50 cities in Massachusetts — that have either moved their local elections to November or are considering such a move. “Anything to increase the vote, we should do it,” he said.
He concluded his statement to town meeting by asking, “Why should we suppress the vote and why should we maintain the status quo?”
The opposition was led by Town Clerk Tracy Kenney, who cited increased costs and numerous logistical concerns, including longer lines at the polls. She added that the dual election format in even-numbered years would require an additional 18 poll workers as well as increased hours for police officers and custodial staff. Kenney also displayed a slide showing higher voter turnout figures in years when there have been contested races.
Selectman Sal Salvatori said he entered Monday’s town meeting with an open mind regarding this article but concluded that there was no empirical evidence showing that a move to November would result in increased voter turnout.
Selectman Avril Elkort said the town has an excellent reputation as a well-run community with a top-rated AAA bond rating. “Things are working well here,” she said. “Why change the process?” She added that the local races would be overshadowed by the state and federal races during even-numbered years.
Short URL: http://www.thecantoncitizen.com/?p=25397