Election petition could face uphill battle in legislatureBy Jay Turner
Following its narrow and somewhat surprising victory at the 2014 annual town meeting in May, a controversial citizen’s petition that aims to move the Canton municipal elections from April to November is on its way to the state legislature, although approval will not come fast or easy, according to state Representative Bill Galvin.
In a telephone interview with the Citizen last week, Galvin, who represents Canton in the Sixth Norfolk District and also serves on the town’s Board of Assessors, confirmed that he had received all of the requisite paperwork from the town and that he would indeed file the home rule petition in the House of Representatives as previously promised. However, with the legislature’s current formal session set to end in just two weeks, Galvin said the earliest he can file any new legislation would be at the start of the next biennial session in January 2015.
Once filed, the petition would then follow the same procedures as any standard piece of legislation, going from the clerk’s office to a joint committee, where members would analyze and convene public hearings on the proposal. If favorably reported out, the bill would then have to pass muster in the full House and Senate before ultimately winding up on the governor’s desk for final authorization.
Galvin said the entire process could take several months or perhaps years, depending on the complexity of the legislation or the opinions of the lawmakers themselves.
In the case of the Canton petition, Galvin said the legislators are apt to take their time with it as it has the potential to affect every town in the commonwealth.
Currently, Massachusetts law mandates that all town elections must be held in the months of February, March, April, May or June. (The law does not apply to city elections.) The proposal by Canton, however, would allow the town to hold its elections on the “first Tuesday after the first Monday” in November — coinciding with state and federal elections in even-numbered years — and other municipalities may be tempted to follow suit with similar requests.
“This is a bill that’s going to have a far-reaching impact,” said Galvin, “and that’s why it is more complicated than just a simple home rule petition.”
Galvin added that the nature of the original town meeting vote (43-40 in a town with more than 14,000 registered voters) could also prove to be “problematic” and that lawmakers may ultimately decide to send the issue back before Canton voters via a ballot question before agreeing to act on such a “major change.”
Galvin said the Canton Board of Selectmen may also want to push for another vote in order to gain a better sense of the town’s interest in the proposal, and then there’s the not-so-small matter of the selectmen’s own feelings on the move, which were made loud and clear when four of the five board members voted against it at the May town meeting. Town Clerk Tracy Kenney, who acts as the town’s registrar of voters, also voiced her opposition to the measure, citing increased costs and numerous logistical concerns.
On the other hand, those who supported the petition, including lead sponsor Bruce Rohr, feel strongly that the town has already spoken.
“The reason the vote was so close at town meeting was that the deck was stacked hugely against the article,” argued Rohr in a June 26 letter to the Citizen.
“This vote was a tribute to the 43 people who hung in there to vote for the article despite the near unanimous opposition from the Canton political elite,” he added. “It was a very good day for local democracy.”
Rohr has maintained that a move to November would not only increase voter turnout, but would also serve to attract more candidates and help fix a “broken” system that has produced exactly one contested race in the last four years combined. Furthermore, he said, Massachusetts is “behind the curve” when it comes to moving municipal elections to November — a trend that is quickly gaining steam in communities from Virginia to Alaska and several states in between.
“Canton is hardly alone in proposing this,” Rohr said. “There are thousands of cities and towns around the United States right now that are moving their elections to November.”
And now that the petition has passed in Canton, Rohr has called on the selectmen to “submit to the will of town meeting and do everything in their power to promote this home rule petition … The wholehearted support of the selectmen will go far in garnering support in the legislature.”
As for Galvin, he too had voiced his opposition to the measure, concluding that the complications of a dual election in even-numbered years would “outweigh the increased voter turnout.” At the same time, he said he has an obligation to represent the community and will not let his personal feelings get in the way.
“I’m elected to represent the town of Canton,” he said, “and if their government bodies vote for something, then it’s my duty to try to get it passed. My feelings don’t even come into it.”
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