Wait goes on for ranked-choice voting in Amherst


Staff Writer
Published: 6/24/2021 8:27:13 PM

AMHERST — A July 1 deadline set by the Town Council to have the state Legislature adopt a home-rule petition allowing ranked-choice voting to be implemented for the Nov. 2 town election is unlikely to be met.

Even though a conventional town election in which the top vote-getters earn election appears to be all but certain, town officials, joined by state Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, and state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, this week made appeals to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Election Laws to pass House bill H.777 as soon as possible.

At a session Wednesday, Domb said the Legislature needs to allow Amherst to implement the ranked-choice elements embedded in the town charter adopted in 2018. Domb said an “extensive and impressive” report from the Ranked Choice Voting Commission was unanimously endorsed by the Town Council.

Council President Lynn Griesemer said the state’s help is needed, despite the 13-0 vote in December to accept the commission’s report.

“This will allow us to complete one of the final requirements of our charter,” Griesemer told the legislative committee.

At-Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke, previously the vice chairwoman of the Charter Commission, also spoke in favor of ranked-choice voting, also known as instant runoff voting, observing that it was a universally supported aspect of the charter.

In fact, Hanneke noted that the commission removed the need for preliminary elections from the charter because its members were so confident that ranked-choice voting would be in place by this November’s election. A preliminary election did narrow the field of candidates in the first election under the charter in 2018.

Hanneke said ranked-choice voting empowers voters and makes sure each candidate for office gets a majority of votes.

Tanya Leise, chairwoman of the Ranked Choice Voting Commission, said mock ballots used in a demonstration of the ranked-choice voting process showed that Amherst voters will be comfortable with it.

Griesemer wrote in an email following the legislative hearing that because ranked-choice voting requires significant preparation at the local level, including delivery of new voting machines that are back-ordered, poll worker education and voter education, councilors didn’t want to move forward with it if the July 1 deadline was not met.

While Amherst still requires passage of the home-rule petition, state Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, has filed legislation that would streamline this process and eliminate this for cities and towns. Previously, Easthampton went through a similar process that Rausch said should be unnecessary in those communities where voters want it.

“Here on Beacon Hill we should get out of their way,” Rausch said.

More than three-quarters of Amherst residents supported ranked-choice voting in state elections during the November 2020 presidential election, even though the measure was defeated statewide.

Meantime, nomination forms will be made available by the town clerk’s office July 1 for all the positions that will be on the Nov. 2 ballot. The positions include three members of the Town Council elected townwide, 10 Town Council members elected from the five districts, five School Committee members, six trustees for the Jones Library, three Housing Authority members and the Elector under the Oliver Smith Will.

Town Clerk Sue Audette said nomination papers for townwide office must be signed by at least 50 registered voters in Amherst. District councilor nomination papers must be signed by at least 25 registered voters in Amherst, all of whom live in the district.

Candidates are advised to collect more signatures than needed. Forms are due by Sept. 14 at 5 p.m.

Residents also can continue to make appeals to the Legislature, with written testimony accepted until 3 p.m. Friday by email to michaela.gaziano@masenate.gov and sean.getchell@mahouse.gov.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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