May 13, 2021 by Hilary Jenison (courtesy photos)
This week, we continue our Candidate Question series leading up to the May 22 Town Election. The Anchor is featuring a series of questions for each of the competitive election races, including Light Board, Board of Assessors, Board of Health, Town Clerk, and Select Board.
We hope voters will carefully read the responses to understand each candidate better and help inform their decision-making at the polls. You can find more information about the local election, including candidate announcements and profiles, on our Local Elections page.
This week, we connected with Libby Lewiecki, Carol Falvey, Laura Marwill and Thomas Patch – all candidates running for the position of Town Clerk.
Hingham Anchor Question: Voter turnout, especially for town elections is typical under 15% of registered voters. What are some of things you would do as Town Clerk to help increase voter participation in our elections?
Response from Libby Lewiecki, Candidate for Town Clerk:
As Town Clerk I can encourage voting in local elections by maintaining trust in the process and by creating educational opportunities.
As Chief Elections Officer, I will guarantee every eligible citizen is able to exercise their right to vote, and that every legitimate vote is counted and reported. State law requires elections be held in the public view, meaning public observation of the election process is permitted. I will welcome observers, set expectations, provide proper training and hold everyone to extremely high standards of conduct. I have always had faith in Hingham’s election process, and I intend to continue Eileen McCracken’s scrupulous leadership in this effort.
I would like to create a welcome packet for newcomers that explains town governance and encourages participation in Hingham’s fabulous activities with special emphasis on Town Meeting and town elections. I will provide easy instructions on how to register to vote, and how to vote. Furthermore, I can push important information, deadlines, and events in different print and social media formats.
Education is a key element to encouraging voter engagement. I would love to collaborate with the schools to create civics lessons supporting the District’s mission of “enabling all students to be successful as local and global citizens”.One such lesson could focus on the importance of voting. I would also like to coordinate similar efforts with other town organizations as well.
On May 22 you will vote for town government representatives. These representatives will collaborate to craft the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 town budget and warrant articles, which you get to vote on at Town Meeting next April. The process repeats year after year.
The Town Clerk plays a critical role in helping to make sure that the entire process runs smoothly. My education - a Master’s of Management of Human Services from Brandeis University, my experience in nonprofit management at Pathfinder International and SCM Community Transportation, and my proven dedication to Hingham in leadership positions - PTO President at South and the High School, and School Committee - make me the most well-rounded and qualified candidate. Please vote for me, Libby Lewiecki, on May 22!
Response from Carol Falvey, Candidate for Town Clerk:
Voter engagement is an important topic I’ve been discussing in the campaign.
Participation is an area I’d like to discuss with neighborhood groups to brainstorm about how we can increase participation. Are there barriers we’re not aware of? Do residents feel engaged? And if not, why? Having the conversation in smaller groups helps to amplify voices and ideas that might not be otherwise heard.
I’d also like to see the Hingham Town Clerk engage Hingham Public School students in how Hingham’s Town Meeting and other election processes work. Our Town Meeting process is legislative and the votes we take after listening to fellow residents represent democracy in its purest form. Learning the importance of this participation at a younger age would help to ingrain respect for this time honored tradition—and prompt some interesting dinner table conversations!
As Town Clerk, I would expand communication methods about important dates in the election calendar to include using social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram in order to reach people where they are. This could also help to inform residents about the services provided by the Town Clerk’s Office like registering voters, running elections, maintaining vital records, responding to public records requests, issuing licenses and permits and communication with the Secretary of State and the Attorney General.
After experiencing our Covid-induced outdoor Town Meetings held during the day on a weekend, is there interest in keeping this daytime weekend format over the Monday/Tuesday night traditional setting? Does a weekend held Town Meeting allow more people to participate? Let’s have a discussion to engage voters in the decision making and see what format might work best for most of the voters.
Finally, I do believe after experiencing early voting in the fall national election, voters prefer the early vote option without having to have an excuse to absentee vote. With various MA legislative voting changes on the horizon, including a broad voting bill filed by Secretary of State William F. Galvin, support of these voting changes should increase voter participation in our elections.
Response from Laura Marwill, Candidate for Town Clerk:
Low voter turnout especially in local elections is, indeed, a concern. To encourage increased voter turnout, a Town Clerk should proactively inform the public and make voting and registration as easy and convenient as possible. I will do that.
According to Massachusetts Election Statistics, over the past decade turnouts for local elections statewide have been alarmingly low*. Voter participation is critical in a representative democracy. Citizens who don’t vote allow others to make decisions for them, and those who do, if a minority, may not represent the interests of the eligible voting population. A high turnout ensures a more representative result.
Achieving a higher turnout rate is a worthy objective and will be one of my primary objectives.
As Town Clerk, I will build upon the good work our current Town Clerk has done to make sure the election system is easy, transparent and accessible. This means making sure that people know how, when and where to vote; how to understand sometimes-complicated ballots; how use the machines; and whom to ask for help. I will reach out to the Council on Disabilities to review our current Elections and Town Meeting accommodations and ensure continued progress to improve accessibility for all Hingham voters.
Voter registration is already just one click away on the Town Clerk’s website. I will continue the Board of Registrars’ practice of informing the public of registration deadlines through the website and broadcast emails and expand it to include newer forms of communication such as social media and Hingham Cable TV. I will encourage civic organizations, like the LWV, to have periodic voter registration drives at the High School and popular local events.
As Town Clerk l will have an aggressive policy of seeking to inform the citizens via old and new media about town elections, voter registration drives and government business. To paraphrase Susan B. Anthony, “Someone struggled for your right to vote. I hope you’ll use it!”
* 2000-23%, 2010-19%, 2018-15% (Massachusetts Election Statistics – MA Secretary of State)
Response from Thomas Patch, Candidate for Town Clerk:
Answering this question requires ascertaining the applicable facts and law. These enable determining the actual issue and the Town Clerk’s scope of authority to address it.
I reviewed Massachusetts Secretary of State’s and Hingham Town Clerk’s on-line election data and obtained additional pertinent facts from Town Clerk McCracken.
These facts establish Hingham current eligible voter registration rate (99.29%) is excellent, and a voter’s exercise of the right to vote is dependent on election type. Typically, Presidential general elections have highest turnout and Town elections lowest. This disparity is stark. For example, 86.57% for the November 2020 general election (57th of 351 Massachusetts municipalities, the highest being 90.98%) and 12.82% for the 2020 Town Election. Other election types fall in between (Town Meetings are not elections).
This indicates causation for turnout variation is neither lack of voter registration nor access to exercising the right to vote.
Instead, this wide turnout disparity appears attributable to individual eligible voter choice – motivation – to undertake the effort to vote in a particular election. The reality is not every eligible person wants to register to vote nor if registered chooses to vote, for a myriad of personally justifiable reasons. Consequently, a 100% or consistently high voting rate is unlikely.
Nevertheless, because registration and access fall within the Town Clerk’s responsibility scope as Hingham’s Chief Elections Officer, I would identify and reach out to those who do not register or vote to ascertain whether barriers exist to either (e.g., insufficient election date/location information), and work to eliminate or make accommodations to address those barriers as permitted by law.
Finally, where the Town Clerk must in fact conduct elections fairly and impartially, I must avoid engaging in advocacy to provide eligible voters motivation to vote with one exception: ensuring each is confident elections are in fact fair, impartial and accessible, and a vote counts. This is accomplished by my transparency in and compliance with all applicable election laws, regulations and policies. Otherwise helping “getting out the vote” is outside the Town Clerk’s job scope and lawfully left to others (e.g., individual candidates, political parties, civic advocacy groups, residents).