Programs and Services voted 4-2 last night to skip a special election to fill the position of Ward 1 alderman at-large, a vacancy caused by the death of Alderman Carleton Merrill last month. If passed by the full board, the vote would allow the BOA to request a home rule petition from the state legislature to forego the special election and wait until November to fill the seat.
Aldermen voting in favor of the home rule petition were Steven Linsky, Dick Blazar, Lisle Baker and Mitch Fischman. Aldermen Amy Sangiolo and John Rice voted against it. Alderman Hess-Mahan was absent but sent a note saying that he was opposed and that he “would like to see if we can piggyback the special election for Carleton’s seat onto another election.” The eighth seat on the committee, sadly and ironically, was held by Alderman Merrill.
Interim Elections Commissions Secretary Peter Koutoujian Sr. gave a host of reasons for not piggybacking the June 25 special election, most of them having to do with how difficult it would be for the Elections Department. It definitely is not as easy as sticking another name on the ballot. Not only does the state require a separate ballot, it requires a separate check-in process. Which means that if a Newton voter wants to cast a ballot in both the Senate and Ward 1 elections, he or she has to check in and receive the ballot for the Senate race, then check out, and then repeat the process for the Ward 1 race. It’s ridiculous but according to Koutoujian, the Secretary of State’s office insists. The good news is that we’d only need on ballot counting machine.
I can say a lot more on this and I will. Right now I’ll add one more thing. After hearing people moan and groan about how difficult elections are and reading that the interim secretary said that people were tired of elections, I was delighted to hear Alderman Sangiolo say,
“I think it’s great that we’re having five elections.”
But it’s a lot trickier than that. If there is a special election, it would be held in conjunction with the June 25 state election to fill the seat vacated by U.S. Senator John Kerry. And the city has to hold that election if the legislature doesn’t approve the home rule petition. So, the committee was planning for both contingencies. If the legislature doesn’t approve the home rule petition by a specific date*, the city has to hold a special election.