Amherst officials unsure if election calendar can be changed

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 4/25/2018 11:49:13 PM

AMHERST — An election calendar for the first votes for the 13-member Town Council will be decided when Town Meeting convenes Monday, but it remains uncertain how much flexibility members will have in changing the schedule embedded in the 37-page town charter.

Though Charter Commission member Gerry Weiss has called on officials to allow the schedule to be “jiggled” by allowing nomination forms to be obtained before June 1, and John Bonifaz, a constitutional voting rights attorney, has told the Select Board he worries about the state and federal constitutional rights of student voters, Town Manager Paul Bockelman said it is unknown if the calendar can be amended.

“The charter is our law now, the old charter is no more,” Bockelman said.

Bockelman said Amherst is already operating under provisions of the charter, which calls for elections to be Sept. 4 and Nov. 6, with nomination forms available June 1 and due Aug. 1. Those running for the 10 district seats will need to collect 25 signatures from 25 registered voters near where they live, while those pursuing townwide seats will need 50 signatures.

The special Town Meeting warrant article asks officials to appeal to the state Legislature for special legislation that would set the preferred calendar that coincides with the state primary and general election this year. In future years, the election would be held in November in odd years, with no need for primaries, due to of ranked-choice, or instant-runoff voting, being implemented.

Bockelman said it will be up to moderator Jim Pistrang to determine whether any attempted amendments are legal or possible and within the scope of the article, including setting an earlier deadline to get nomination papers.

Joel Bard of KP Law is also expected to be in attendance that evening to offer guidance.

Weiss said in an email that incoming freshmen at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College and Hampshire College would still be deprived of their ability to register to vote and participate in the primary, if that date is not changed.

Charter Commission Andy Churchill, who helped draft the charter and supported it, said he doesn’t recall the topic being brought up in any of the debates and forums that were held to explain the charter.

“It’s hard to believe this is controversial,” Churchill said.

Churchill said that he would defer to the moderator and town counsel as whether changes could be made that might allow nomination papers to be available earlier.

Town Meeting begins at 6:59 p.m. at the middle school auditorium.

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