Editorial: Growing the voter rolls

  • Ruth Odom of the League of Women Voters of Franklin County helps Turners Falls High School students John Putula and Kyle Dodge register to vote during lunch. FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 4/14/2019 9:40:36 AM

Since its formation in early 2017, the Franklin County League of Women Voters, which counts men and noncitizens among its members and is open to anyone over age 16, has cultivated the grassroots of democracy with forums about how to run for public office, how to discern fake news, meet-the-candidates gatherings and issue-oriented events. Two things the nonpartisan league does not do is take sides on issues or promote one candidate for public office over another.

What it does do is provide the foundation of facts for an informed citizenry to take to the polls with them. Thus, education is at the heart of the league – which is why its members could be found in area high schools signing up juniors and seniors to vote in the 2020 election.

“Many of you will be 18 by the next presidential election,” said league member Ruth Odom. “Your vote counts – so use it!”

That was the message that Odom and fellow members Denise Petrin and Janice James brought to students at Turners Falls High School recently as part of an hour-long presentation that taught students of David Smith’s and Laura Larson’s U.S. history classes how to register, what identification they’ll need the first time they go to vote, absentee ballots and more. Their message seems to have fallen on receptive ground.

Turners Falls High School junior, Abigail Waite, said the session was “very helpful” and she felt more informed afterward. Waite said she was going to take her registration form and pledge card home and sign them, and then return them to Town Hall.

TFHS senior, Tyler Murray-Lavin, said he plans to vote in the 2020 presidential election but not before doing his research on all the candidates. That sentiment was probably music to the ears of League members, who sponsor the kind of events that will help Murray-Lavin do his research on candidates both local and national.

Over at Franklin County Technical School, league members visited teacher Amber Crochier’s current issues class. “We talk about voting,” said Crochier, “but they actually get to register.”

Part of Odum’s message applies to voters of all ages: One or two votes can make a difference. For example, a 2017 vote in Virginia for a state House seat was decided by pulling the name of one of the two candidates out of a bowl because it was a tie. And a vote in New Mexico for a state House seat was decided by two out of 14,000 votes.

League members could have cited examples closer to home. For instance, a 2014 tie vote in Northfield of 262-262 led to a recount, with a final count of 265-261. This was for a Proposition 2½ override that affected the district school budget. Four student votes – indeed, four votes by anyone – could have swayed that result.

Similarly, in Conway, a 2017 motion pertaining to a citizens petition for a “Safe Communities” bylaw was tabled by a three-vote margin, 59-56.

A few votes one way or the other can be decisive – but you have to be a registered voter – and you have to show up – to make that difference.

“Sometimes people register but don’t vote,” said Petrin. “It’s like preparing breakfast and not eating any of it.”

A free press is vital to an informed citizenry and The Greenfield Recorder is proud to fill that role in Franklin County. The only thing we would add to the League of Women Voters’ presentations to area students is this: For young people who live by their smartphones, we are at their fingertips at www.recorder.com.




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