AN INSIDE LOOK - Commentary and opinions on local politics and life in general in Southeastern Massachusetts! Featuring the writings of Bill Gouveia, newspaper columnist for the Sun Chronicle and local cable TV talk show host. Feel free to read, comment and enjoy!
Friday, May 24, 2013
Mansfield Election Turnout Raises Questions
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on May 24, 2013
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
The recipe for holding an election
is simple:Take one large portion of
registered voters, throw in some candidates opposing each other, sprinkle with
an issue or two, mix together vigorously, simmer over medium heat for at least
30 days, then serve.
even the simplest recipe doesn’t work if you leave out one or two of the key
ingredients.This was most obvious
recently in Mansfield, where those trying to serve the local election up to the
people were handicapped by a shortage of two vital ingredients:Candidates and voters.
have seen some pathetic and lamentable election turnouts in this local area
recently.North Attleboro’s 2013 town
election saw less than 10 percent trek to the polls.Norton, Rehoboth and Seekonk had somewhat
similar experiences.To term recent local
voter turnout “poor” in the Sun Chronicle area would be (with the notable
exception of Foxboro) a gross understatement.
in Mansfield, a totally underwhelming 335 people out of over 13,000 registered
voters actually cast ballots.That’s
about 2.25 percent.More people than
that attended the Annual Town Meeting.More
people than that attend junior varsity sporting events in that town.Heck, more people than that stop to look at
accident scenes on the highway.That’s
not a turnout, it’s an expression of complete and utter disdain.
can you blame them?Mansfield had
absolutely no contested races to decide.Not for selectman, not for school committee, not for any town board,
committee or position.Every single candidate
ran unopposed.Except for writing in a
name, voters had no choice whatsoever beyond taking a pass and staying home.So that’s exactly what they did.
does that say about Mansfield in general?Is it indicative of a problem, or a sign of general satisfaction?Are voters lazy, apathetic, or simply
satisfied with what they have and see no reason to even consider any changes?
a pretty safe bet most town officials would have you believe the latter.Some may very well look upon the low voter
turnout and lack of challengers for elected positions as a positive comment on
their performance.And there may be some
validity to that point of view.Perhaps
people just feel totally comfortable with government as it is.
a two percent voter turnout?Seriously,
nobody is that good.Two percent is what
you get when there is something wrong, not what you get when voters simply
don’t have interesting choices.Two
percent is a statement made via silence. The question is – what are voters actually
saying by saying nothing?Yes, that’s a
terrible sentence, but I don’t know how else to phrase it.
have been running pretty smoothly in Mansfield.The selectmen seem to be working together well, the town manager has
provided strong leadership, and relations with the school department have
greatly improved.Yet there are still
many issues the town must address in the immediate future, and quite a few will
involve making difficult decisions.It’s
not all sweetness and roses.
tells us that these things are cyclical to some extent.Interest in local affairs ebbs and flows,
usually in accordance with the level of controversy facing the electorate.Put an override on the ballot, and turnout
will increase dramatically.Cut sports
from the high school budget and the turnout will surge.Heck, just have enough candidates to create a
contest and you’ll get much better than two percent.
why aren’t there more contested races?Well,
there are many theories.My own belief
is that it just isn’t as easy to serve your town as it used to be.You seldom get credit when things go right,
and always get blamed when they go wrong.Budgets are in the many tens of millions these days, and it is no fun
making cuts in services people truly care about.Selectmen rightfully defer often to the town
manager, and school committees are really just powerless figureheads since Prop
2-1/2 became law.
no races at all. and only two percent turnout?The only thing that is a recipe for is disaster.
smells funny in Mansfield, and it’s not the sewer plant.Voters and officials were smart enough to
build that in Norton.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and
can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at