Published in the May 26, 2016 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
As of this writing, we have eight people (and counting) running for Selectman in the July 19 Special Election to fill the nine months left on former Selectman Betsy Sheeran’s term.
This sudden surge of interest in public service is truly a wonderful thing to behold.
My only question is, where were some of these people last month when we didn’t have enough candidates for all of the positions on the Town Election ballot? Walter Schofield had to mount a write-in campaign because nobody could be bothered getting on the ballot for an open slot on the Board of Assessors.
And now, after all the heat that Phyllis Hull took for exercising her right to call for a Special Election, we have half the town running in an election that everyone said was a waste of time and money. Some of the most vocal opponents of holding a July Special Election were only too willing to put their names on the ballot after someone else did the work of collecting the 200 signatures to force the Special Election.
Good thing we don’t expect consistency from our politicians.
When was the last time we had eight candidates for a single vacancy? Sure, there were five candidates for selectman in the recent Town Election – but they were running for three positions and each was for a full three-year term. That’s less than two candidates for each position.
Now we have eight candidates running for one nine-month term, after which the winning candidate will have to go through the whole process all over again if they want a full term.
One can’t help but wonder why this particular vacancy is so highly coveted.
It’s really not all that hard to figure out.
After more citizens than attend your average Town Meeting signed a petition calling for the Special Election, the Board of Selectmen set the July 19 election date. Legally, they had to schedule the election in an expeditious manner, but they also had to allow a minimum of 64 days in order to allow sufficient time for the process of candidates pulling nomination papers, gathering and certifying signatures and the printing of ballots.
There was vocal opposition to holding an election in the dead of summer. Voter participation is dismal enough at the Annual Town Election in April, many argued, and turnout for a July election would be so low you’d need an electron microscope to detect it.
The Board of Selectmen could function just fine for a year with six members, they said.
And if we absolutely needed to fill the position sooner, they insisted, the Special Election should be combined with another election like the State Primary in September or the Presidential Election in November. That would save the cost of a separate Special Election, we were told by these newly minted fiscal conservatives. In addition, voter turnout would be higher.
No doubt more people vote in state primaries and presidential elections than vote in local elections (which makes very little sense, since local government has much more direct impact on people’s daily lives than state or federal government).
But would we have eight candidates running if the election were being held concurrently with a larger-turnout state or national election?
Of course we wouldn’t.
One reason we have so many people running now is because they see a low-turnout July Special Election as an easier shot to get elected than running in a regular election. And once you’re in as an incumbent, it generally takes the Jaws of Life to get you out of office.
After all the hand-wringing about having an election in the summer, it has given us the largest choice of candidates for one seat than we’ve seen in a very long time.
I say, the more the merrier! You have until 5 p.m. today to pull nomination papers.
Get thee to Town Hall!