This fall, 100 percent of Amherst voters will be able to choose among multiple candidates as they elect the 13 members of the new Town Council.
This level of voter choice is completely new in Amherst. Over the past 11 years, only 5 percent of voting precincts have had this much choice among candidates for Town Meeting. Voter choice among Select Board and School Committee candidates has been declining.
With our new form of government, Amherst is empowering voters to make decisions between candidates based on their experience, character and positions on issues (and other criteria).
There will be four candidates for two seats on the Town Council in each of the five voting districts on Nov. 6, if no one drops out. There will be six candidates for three town-wide (“at large”) seats. Click here for a list of the 34 candidates, along with their ages, addresses and experience/affiliations.
From 2008 to 2018, there were only six times when voters in a precinct had twice as many Town Meeting candidates to choose from as seats available. And even then, voters were often flummoxed. For example, Precinct 9 voters in 2017 had to evaluate the qualifications of 24 candidates for eight seats, a near-impossible task. About half of all Town Meeting members were elected without any choices for voters at all over that 11-year period,because there were the same number of candidates (or fewer) as seats available. Another 20 percent of precincts had minimal choices for voters.
In addition to dramatically expanding voter choice, the new charter will provide a means to measure public opinion on the issues that Amherst faces. In the past, we’ve received that information mainly in referendums. In the upcoming Town Council campaign, candidates will articulate their positions on issues, and voters will respond.
Also, I expect that voter participation in elections will greatly improve. Debates about the issues, lawn signs, conversations among friends and family, neighborhood involvement, and a November election date should draw more people to the polls. That increase in community participation should make for a healthier democracy.
There will be a preliminary election on Sept. 4, but it won’t be as important to the composition of the Town Council as the general election on Nov. 6. In eliminating eight of the 34 candidates, the preliminary election will tell us who doesn’t have voter support. The Sept. 4 preliminary election will be more notable for the choice between two strong candidates for the Democratic nomination for state representative.
In future Town Council elections, ranked-choice voting will make preliminary elections unnecessary (this one will be held the day after Labor Day, just as many people have returned to Amherst).
Here are some other observations about the field of candidates for Town Council:
- The average age of the candidates is 56.5. That’s five years younger than the average age of Town Meeting members in 2017.
- Of the 34 candidates, 19 are Town Meeting members. Of those 19, I count 12 who supported the new charter.
- Thirteen of the candidates are women, including all four in District 1 (Precincts 1 & 3). Three candidates are people of color.
- Three candidates are UMass students and six are UMass staff members, including two professors and one lecturer.
- Only six of the candidates have been elected to town-wide office before (including five of the seven at-large candidates); another five have been appointed to major committees.