Newton Aldermen Turn Down Request to Forego Ward 1 Special Election
The board will now discuss and vote on whether to piggyback the Ward 1 special election with the special Senate election on June 25.
Updated 10:35 a.m.
The Newton Board of Aldermen has turned down a request to delay the election to fill the vacant Ward 1 alderman-at-large seat.
Instead, the board will now consider holding a Ward 1 alderman-at-large special election in conjunction with the June 25 special Senate election.
"We've done this before and we can do it again," said Ward 3 Alderman-at-Large Ted Hess-Mahan. "[A special election] is not an unreasonable burden, particularly when it involves the right to vote."
The Ward 1 at-large seat was vacated last month following the death of Alderman Carleton Merrill, who passed away on Jan. 23 at the age of 88.
At its Tuesday night meeting, the board voted 12-10 against delaying the election. The request, proposed by the Newton Board of Election Commissioners, asked that the city forego a special election for the Ward 1 seat and instead, fill the vacancy during the regular municipal election in November.
However, the city's charter specifies that a special election must be held to fill the Board of Aldermen seat if the vacancy occurs within the first 15 months of the term [Sec. 2-5 (a)]. Because the charter states a special election should be held, the Board of Aldermen would have had to petition lawmakers on Beacon Hill for home rule legislation to allow the city to skip the special election.
Earlier this month, the Newton Election Commission voted to forego the special election to fill the Ward 1 seat, arguing that it would not be an easy task in a year that already includes five other elections.
At its meeting on February 6, he board's Programs & Services Committee also agreed to forego the special election.
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Cost-wise, the Ward 1 at-large special election would run the city roughly $30,000 if it decided to piggyback on the June 25 special Senate election, according to Interim Election Commission Executive Secretary Peter Koutoujian Sr. A city typical election that runs on its own would cost around $80,000, he said.
The city's cost for the special Senate election is around $60,000, Koutoujian told Newton Patch earlier this month.
But cost was not the Election Commission's only concern with piggybacking the elections. If the two special elections ran on the same day, there would be two separate ballots and two check-in/check-out spots at polling locations, which could confuse voters.
In addition, running the two special elections on the same day would require additional staff at the polling centers, Koutoujian said.
Citing a similar case with the board in 1994, Ward 7 Alderman Lisle Baker also brought up concerns about voter turnout, stating that more residents may come out to vote in the November general election.
"The board made a decision at that time [in 1994], and the legislature concurred, that it was wiser to use our resources, and to serve the public interest, to have an election where there was a better turnout for the aldermen races, or in this case, a municipal election," Baker said.
Aside from concerns about election cost or turnout, many aldermen pointed out that the Ward 1 special election would result in someone being elected in late June and serving only four months before the general municipal election in November.
Two of those months, some argued, are in the middle of the summer and are likely to be "slow" for board work.
"On a practical matter and a common sense matter, I'm wondering what we're gaining in following the charter to the letter of the law," said Ward 2 Alderman-at-Large Susan Albright.
In addition, both Albright and Ward 6 Alderman-at-Large Vicki Danberg argued that with Board President Scott Lennon already declaring his candidacy for the Ward 1 alderman-at-large seat, it is possible he would be elected in June to fill the spot and the board would be right back down to 23 seats again.
But many aldermen, like Hess-Mahan, believed the inconveniences of another special election did not outweigh the law of the charter or the residents' right to vote and fill the vacancy.
"I think in this case, principal outweighs efficiency," said Ward 7 Alderman-at-Large Ruthanne Fuller.
Fuller's fellow Ward 7 alderman agreed.
"We have a standard that we have enacted in our charter and I think we need to follow it," said Ward 7 Alderman-at-Large Marc Laredo. "Maybe in the future we should change it, but concerns about difficulties in holding an election, or low turnout -- in the end, none of these are persuasive enough for me."
With last night's vote turning down the request to forego the special election, the board's Programs and Services Committee will now take up a discussion and vote on whether to piggyback the Ward 1 special election with the special Senate election on June 25. The committee will discuss the item at its meeting tonight, which starts at 7:45 p.m. in room 222 at Newton City Hall.
What do you think about the board's decision? Join the conversation on this story or leave a comment below.
Tuesday night's vote:
Note: A "Yes" vote indicates support to delay the election to November. A "no" vote indicates support to hold a special election earlier.
Note: Lennon did not vote as he has a conflict of interest in the item. Lennon has declared his candidacy for the Ward 1 alderman-at-large seat.