My Turn: Let us unite to defeat Question 1

  • BRICKETT ALLIS

Published: 10/22/2021 1:27:56 PM

If you told me six months ago that I would be on the same side of a political issue, much less working on a ballot question for that issue with Al Norman, I would have said you were crazy. However, here we are. I feel compelled to work across the aisle to help preserve our current, fair referendum process.

On Nov. 2 , Question 1 asks you to change the referendum process to, in the words of the Charter Review Committee, “make it harder” to do. There are many cities comparable to Greenfield that have lower thresholds, just a few examples include Amherst, Longmeadow and Southbridge.

The facts as of Feb. 1 in Greenfield:

■There are 12,563 registered voters.

■In the 2019 election, 5,557 registered voters voted.

■The charter requires the signatures of 10% of the voters voting in the last election (556 signatures, 10% of 5,557); but not less than 2.5% of total voters (314 signatures, 2.5% of 12,563) to place a referendum question on the ballot.

■The minimum number of signatures for a referendum petition is 556.

■Signatures on referendum petitions do not need to be only those who voted in past elections;all registered voters are eligible to sign.

■To get on the ballot as a candidate for at-large (town wide) councilor or mayor you need only a mere 100 signatures.

■All referenda are decided by majority vote of town voters.

Sadly, there is a reality of election turnout. It’s historically and consistently low. I wish that weren’t the case, but it is.

That’s exactly why the threshold for referenda is based on voters voting and not total registered voters; it allows the voters who turn out to dictate the threshold requirement.

This is akin to your standard deduction when filing taxes. The IRS taxes only your adjusted gross income not your full gross income because even they are smart enough to know that you do not ever keep 100% of what you make, and it would be unfair to tax that portion.

In fact, tying the signatures needed to all registered voters is a punitive change. Those who do come out and vote are empowered under the current process.

If this charter change passes, referenda will require 7% of all 12,563 registered voters (893 signatures) as opposed to the current requirement of 10% of the 5,557 voters voting (556 signatures). In an apples-to-apples comparison this change is not a 3% decrease as has been portrayed by the Charter Review Committee. Rather an astounding 128.5% increase from 7% to 16%! (893 equals 16% of the voters voting and 7% of registered voters)

I served for 20 years on the City Council, in that time I voted on thousands of measures. Of those only two were subsequently sent to referendum. Both used the current method of signature requirements, and of the two, one vote was upheld, the other overturned. Both cases were decided by majority vote, not a tiny group of citizens. That indicates to me the process works exactly as intended.

The Charter Review Committee is a tiny group of appointed citizens. It is suggested that this change will “protect your vote” when in fact this change only serves to protect the decisions of elected officials on the council simultaneously weakening the citizens’ right to “check” those votes.

Further, some on the Charter Review Committee suggest that referenda are used to “obstruct” the process. If that were true, there would have been far more than two referenda over the last 20 years and thousands of council votes.

It is my hope this change was not intended to discourage and disenfranchise citizens who seek to participate in the local political process. However, that is exactly the effect it will have in the future.

I had been so confident Greenfield would never be a place to try and enact the types of legislation seen around the country seeking to make involvement in the voting process harder, unfortunately this suggested change has shaken that confidence.

As Question 1 is written it can be understandably confusing. I certainly don’t blame you if you are feeling that way in which case voting no changes nothing! A no vote is a safe vote and preserves our charter language that is fair and equitable the way it is. Our referendum language is not broken. We don’t need to fix it

Red or Blue, conservative, or liberal, let us all unite by voting No on Nov. 2 to defeat Question 1.

Brickett Allis, a former city councilor and a mayoral candidate in the last election, lives in Greenfield.


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