Dual ballots slow student vote in Amherst town election

Clerk to warden: ‘It’s voter choice’

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst students isabella Pina, left, and Isadora De Alpino walk to the Bangs Center after receiving a ride to the polls Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2018 12:14:45 AM

AMHERST — Voting for the first time Tuesday, University of Massachusetts student Isabelle Oppenheim arrived at her polling place, provided her dormitory address and was given a state election ballot.

When she completed her voting, and was ready to vote in the town election to decide who would serve on Amherst’s first Town Council, though, an election worker told her that ballot was optional.

“She said, ‘You don’t need to do it if you don’t want to do it,’” Oppenheim said.

For Oppenheim, this struck her as an odd comment, especially since she is up to date on what is going on in Amherst and town affairs. She said she felt like she had to push to receive the ballot, which she eventually did.

Sophia Ryan was among those driving some university students to the polls Tuesday and heard anecdotally that getting the town ballots was more difficult than the state ballots. Her father, George Ryan, won a seat on the Town Council in District 3, whose precincts, 4 and 10, are among the more heavily student populated in town.

It was also the lone district where a UMass student was running for office. That student, John Page, finished behind both Ryan and Dorothy Pam.

The possibility that some students weren’t completing both ballots, and may have been confused about the dual elections, is an issue Town Clerk Margaret Nartowicz said she became aware of during the course of the day.

“I immediately called the warden at the precinct and he was told to reinforce to poll workers that it’s voter choice, and voter choice alone, whether to vote in one or both elections,” Nartowicz said.

Oppenheim said she doesn’t feel there was malicious intent, acknowledging she and others didn’t know the procedures in place.

“I was expecting it to be both at the same time,” Oppenheim said about getting the ballots.

But Nartowicz said since there were two separate elections, the poll workers have to check in and check out voters twice.

“Workers are trained to receive one line of voters at a time,” Nartowicz said.

And when elections like this coincide, communities are mandated to provide the state ballot first.

This may help explain that the turnout of the 21,990 registered voters was lower for the town election than the state election. In fact, 9,495 voters, or 43.2 percent, participated in the town election, compared to 11,005 voters, or 50.1 percent, who participated in the state election.

The percentage of voters voting in the town election was significantly lower in the two precincts that make up District 3 than elsewhere in town. In District 3, 1,475 cast ballots in the state election, and just 930 did so in the town vote, meaning nearly 37 percent of voters abstained from the town vote. In most other districts, at least 80 percent, and typically much higher, voted in both elections.

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

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