Easthampton moves to put 4-year mayoral term, ranked-choice voting on November ballot 

  • Easthampton Municipal Building at 50 Payson Ave.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer 
Published: 5/16/2019 2:57:46 PM
Modified: 5/16/2019 2:57:34 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The City Council approved amendments to Easthampton’s charter on Wednesday that would extend the mayor’s term from two to four years and implement ranked-choice voting for precinct city councilors and the mayor. 

The language of the amendments will be vetted by City Solicitor Mark Tanner before they are sent to the state Legislature for approval. City voters in November will ultimately decide whether the changes go into effect as the charter amendments will appear as ballot questions.

Residents who spoke during the public hearing at Wednesday’s City Council meeting said they support putting the charter amendments on the ballot for residents to decide, and many expressed their hope that the measures be adopted. 

Easthampton resident Dan Gilbert said ranked-choice voting, “for me, personally, removes a lot of cynicism from our current process because you can have a couple of candidates that split each other’s votes because they are kind of similar — and this fixes that.” 

In ranked-choice voting, the candidate with a majority of votes wins. If no candidates break 50 percent in the initial count, then the candidate with the least amount of votes gets eliminated. Those who voted for the candidate with the least amount of votes then have their votes redistributed to their second choice, and so on, until a winner emerges.

“This isn’t a new, fancy way of doing things,” Gilbert said. “This is a solution for a very big, systematic problem with how we elect people in this country.” 

According to the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, ranked-choice voting was invented in the 1850s in Europe and was later used in state-level elections in Australia. Cities in the United States, such as Ashtabula, Ohio, Boulder, Colorado, and Sacramento, California, began using ranked-choice voting in the early 1900s for city council elections. 

Merriam Ansara, of Easthampton, said her former hometown of Cambridge uses ranked-choice voting for city council elections, and “it felt as though you had your representative on the council.” 

With ranked-choice voting, elections became more personal, and more people got involved, Ansara said. She added that extending the mayor’s term by two years is important for accomplishing goals.

“I have been kind of appalled that anybody would be expected to learn the job and then do the job in two years,” Ansara said. “In four years, on the other hand, you’ve had time to find your feet, time to figure out what’s going on, and then you have time to actually tuck into the projects you’d like to see happen in the city.” 

In 2012, voters in Northampton approved changes to its charter that lengthened the mayor’s term from two to four years. Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz was the last mayor to serve a two-year term before that change was made.

“One of the challenges of a two-year term is you get elected, and in the first six months, you are operating under the predecessor’s budget,” Narkewicz said in an interview on Wednesday. “You go through one budget process, and if there are any other initiatives you want to pursue, theoretically, you can also be gearing up for re-election, which could start as early as January.” 

As for ranked-choice voting, which Northampton’s Charter Review Committee is also taking a look at, Narkewicz said, “It gives people a way to express their support for smaller party candidates.” 

Ranked-choice voting would only be used for precinct and mayoral races due to the complications that come from multi-winner races for at-large city councilors and school committee members, Easthampton City Council President Joseph McCoy said at Wednesday’s meeting. 

The charter amendments the council passed will be petitioned to the state Legislature, and pending vetting from Tanner, will be handed off to state Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, and state Sen. Don Humason, R-Westfield, for state approval. 

If city voters approve both changes, and the state Legislature approves the amendments, they would be implemented in the 2021 election, and would take effect for the 2022 terms, according to City Councilor Daniel Rist. 

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com. 


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