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Q&A on preliminary election Sept. 4

Nick Grabbe

The first election for Amherst’s new Town Council is coming up in a little over two weeks, on Sept. 4. Here are some questions and answers about this “preliminary” election.

Q. Now that the town is divided into five districts instead of 10 precincts, where will I vote?

A. You will vote in the same place you have always voted. Click here for the locations. The precinct lines still exist with respect to polling places. Here’s a map of the district and precinct lines and polling places.

Q. Will there be a preliminary election for Town Council members in all five districts?

A. No. There is no preliminary election for district councilor in District 1 (Precincts 1 & 3). That’s because only four candidates filed papers in that district. All seven candidates for three at-large Town Council seats will be on everyone’s ballot.

Q. How many candidates for Town Council can I vote for?

A. Three for councilor-at-large and two for district councilor.

Q. Where can I find a list of candidates?

A. Here’s a list of them. Video statements from the candidates are available at Amherst Media.

Q. Will I have an opportunity to meet the candidates or hear them speak?

A. There will be five events this Tuesday, Aug. 21 at 7 p.m. at which candidates for district councilor can meet with voters. Click here for the sites. Candidates for at-large voters will be at an event Wednesday, Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. in the Regional Middle School auditorium. The League of Women Voters is the sponsor.

Q. Have any of the original 33 candidates withdrawn?

A. Yes. Juan Ruiz-Hau in Precinct 2 and Niels la Cour in District 4 have verbally announced their intention to withdraw. But their decisions came after the ballots were printed, so their names will still appear on Sept. 4. If they are not among the top four vote-getters in their precincts, or if they notify the town clerk’s office by Sept. 10, their names will not be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Q. How important is this “preliminary” election?

A. It’s not nearly as determinative of the composition of the Town Council as the primary for state representative and state senator, whose winners will face no major opposition in the general election Nov. 6. The 33 candidates for Town Council will be reduced to 26. The vote totals will be interesting for the candidates in the general election campaign, but not necessarily predictive of what they will be on Nov. 6, when the composition of the electorate could be different. It’s still important for registered voters to show up at the polls.

Q. Are there candidates for whom the preliminary election is more important than for others?

A. It’s crucial for those candidates who will not be among the top vote-getters. For example, the district candidate who comes in fourth will be on the Nov. 6 ballot, but the fifth-place finisher will not. If UMass student John Page, a candidate in District 3, can survive the preliminary election that’s been scheduled just after students have returned to their campuses, he will have an opportunity to mobilize student turnout in the general election Nov. 6.

Q. When will the polling places be open?

A. From 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Q. Can I still register to vote in the preliminary election?

A. No. The deadline has passed. You can still register to vote (by Oct. 17) in the general election. Here’s more information on voter registration.

Q. Will the candidates for state office be on the same ballot as the candidates for Town Council?

A. No. There will be two separate ballots in both the preliminary and general elections. Voters can fill in one or both.

Q. Can I still vote if I’m not going to be in town on Sept. 4?

A. Yes. You can pick up an absentee ballot at the town clerk’s office on the first floor of Town Hall. The deadline is Aug. 31 at 5 p.m.

Q. Why has this preliminary election been scheduled?

A. To reduce the number of candidates to twice the number of seats on the Town Council (13). In future elections, preliminary elections will probably not be necessary, if Ranked Choice Voting is implemented by then.

Q. Whose idea was it to schedule this election the day after Labor Day?

A. It was the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office. The Charter Commission decided that the turnout would be greater if the preliminary election coincided with the state primary. Having separate preliminary and general elections for Town Council and for state candidates would have been more expensive and burdensome to voters.

Q. Can I write in the name of a candidate who is not on the ballot?

A. Yes, space will be provided on all ballots for that. (It’s a vital part of the State Senate race.) And you don’t need the write-in candidate’s address, or even know how to spell his or her name. “Courts have ruled that a vote should be counted whenever the intent of the voter can reasonably be determined,” according to the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

Q. Will election workers be able to help me write in a candidate’s name?

A. There are strict rules on this. They can refer voters to specimen ballots and show them how to mark a ballot. They cannot tell voters who is or is not a write-in candidate, or what office a write-in candidate is running for, or tell voters what party nomination a candidate is seeking.

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