Sunday, July 27, 2008

Expensive votes!

My favorite ancient ‘Only in Amherst' political yarn goes like this: Back when any citizen calling Amherst home could attend a Town Meeting and vote, Umass students (although they may have been called “Mass Aggies” at the time) were upset about some ordinance or other passed at the previous Town Meeting.

So they showed up unannounced at the next Town Meeting in Legions.

And they proposed and passed an ordinance mandating a perimeter fence around the entire town common and then all marched out of the Meeting in force singing the school song (Rah! Rah! Rah!).

Funny story! But like most urban legends--completely untrue.

Yet for 25 years now, I’ve heard paranoid scenarios just like that where the students are the “sleeping giants” of town politics and one of these days they are going to awaken, pissed off, and really do something.

Other than the 2000 local election with the Legalize Pot Resolution on the Ballot student participation has been pathetic at best (although ironically, some credit their involvement with Anne Awad's victory that year).

Umass provided a voting place (combining 4 precincts) on campus two years ago, spending $56,000 to lease the high-tech machines, to make it easier for the Sleeping Giants to sleep late and still vote.

In 2006 only 26 students bothered to vote at the new convenient location), or a tad less than 1.25% turnout. And in 2007 only seventeen total, or less than 1% turnout. Ouch!

$3,216.14 in staff pay plus $240 for programming the machines and printing ballots divided by 17 kids comes to a whopping $240 per student vote. On the town side 3,356 voters requiring $8,455 in staff and $2,143 for programming and printing comes to $3.16 per townie vote.

Changing the election date to replace outgoing, X-Czar Anne Awad from the September Primary (that usually gets a better voter turnout than our annual spring election) to a stand-alone election December 2 at an extra cost of $8,000 is a BAD idea.

For the handful of students it would enfranchise at an overhead of hundreds of dollars each--this time covered by Amherst taxpayers-we could simply spend a fraction of that on student outreach and advertising to promote the September 16 election, with better results.

Or...put it on the November 4 Presidential ballot--where turnout will be a whopping 80%.


Anonymous said...

A few concerns Larry....

First, the pot leaf behind the Minuteman is one step less offensive than the pothead-defaced US Flag. (Yes, they have one, in the student union.) The logo is, frankly, unpatriotic.

Second, it is wrong. There are about 25,000 UM students if you count the graduate students, post docs and part timers. The population of Hadley is about 5000. So you can look at it as five Towns of Hadley jammed onto that campus.

Each of the 22 story towers holds 550 students, there probably are about 13,000 students living in dorms - probably more as they keep jamming more into lounges for additional revenue.

There is a grand total of about 20 hardcore leftist activists and perhaps a couple hundred followers whom they can motivate to scream and shout. (I know this because I have to deal with them and thus know their resources.)

Now if you give them 250 because it makes the math easier, that is ONE PERCENT of the student body. One percent is not statistically significant -- in fact it is insignificant.

In fact, there is valid research data - albiet old because UM doesn't dare do it again - that the student body is far more conservative than anyone ever dreamed -- over 90% supported the first gulf war in 1990. The person who did it - a leftist - did it a second time because he figured he had done something wrong but the results came back the same. And that was the last statistically valid survey of UM student opinions that has been done.

> Back when any citizen calling
> Amherst home could attend a Town
> Meeting and vote, Umass students

My favorite legend (and I have seen published newspaper photographs supporting the legend) is that back in the 1970s and 1980s the UMass students marched on downtown whenever they were upset about something. I remember hearing about one famous "drinkin" downtown in protest of something.

No riot police back then....

> Yet for 25 years now, I’ve heard
> paranoid scenarios just like that
> where the students are the
> “sleeping giants” of town
> politics and one of these days
> they are going to awaken,
> pissed off, and really do
> something.

The ones that are "pissed off" are not the ones that have the political organization to do anything. UMass is doing its damnest to prevent this from happening -- unless you advocate an approved view, it is almost impossible to get your views out to like minded folk.

There is a real fear here.

> spending $56,000

0f STUDENT MONEY. And what wasn't spent for that was spent for Cindy Sheehan to come here. Which tells you a bit about who and what is going on, who controls things.

> In 2006 only 26 students bothered
> to vote at the new convenient
> location)

Convenient to whom, Larry? There was NO parking there, one had to WALK over there, in my case further than to the Bangs Center, which does have free parking. And we won't even get into how the people working the polls were UMass Leftist Activists (not clerk people) and how many folk that scared away.

Remember there are two UMasses, to say that what the SGA folk wanted reflects the UM students is to say that what the Town Manager wants reflects the views of folk like you.

> $3,216.14 in staff

WOW! I had no idea they got that much. See above about who got it.

> Changing the election date to
> replace outgoing, X-Czar Anne

Please tell me what other election Amherst schedules for student participation. To run for a town office one must take out papers during intersession when students aren't here, they are due like the third day the students come back. And the annual town meeting is held DURING FINALS WEEK. Short of in the midst of a hurricane, I can't think of a less likely time to get students attending.

I honestly would like to know what election this century has been scheduled NOT to preclude student participation, other than the state-set primary and general ones.

> For the handful of students it
> would enfranchise

Of course this includes students who might run for the office - the real fear of some in this town. And I still say hold it on the GENERAL ELECTION day in November. And if the town clerk can't deal with that, get a new town clerk...

> Or...put it on the November 2
> Presidential ballot--where
>turnout will be a whopping 80%.

Agreed! And the fact they won't do this shows that it isn't about UMass students. Not really.

I still remember what Billy Bulger said about the conservative precincts in his Senate district. Same thing here....

Ed Cutting

Who really is offended with that pot leaf defacing the MMan...

Anonymous said...

one other thing -- Vince no more reflects Amherst taxpayers than the student radicals reflect the UM student body as a whole....

O'Reilly said...

Based on the voting count and costs Larry Kelley presents, it is also a BAD decision for the town to locate additional voting machines on campus at Umass when voting is available less than 1 mile from campus, and PVTA buses can provide affordable transportation to the polls.

That said, if the town wants to put a machine in the Umass Student Union for the election, why not? ... and then do so for Amherst College and Hampshire College too. I don't think voting history supports the expense and I don't think PVTA travel presents an undue burden.

The town might consider advertising the voter registration deadline and the election as a public notice in all area newspapers including the Student and the Collegian and the Hampshire College paper of record.

If the town was smart, they'd include in the notice the URL link to the election page on the Town of Amherst official web site, to be managed under the direction of the Town Clerk. The names of candidates who have submitted their election papers could be listed as well as links to their campaign website with their positions.

Tommy said...

Loved your letter Ed, but personally I think marijuana is as American as apple pie.

Anonymous said...

The real UMass Voting Problem:

> it is also a BAD decision for
> the town to locate additional
> voting machines on campus

It was a worse decision to ghettoize all the UMass students into a backwater conglomerated precinct that in many cases was FURTHER from the residence halls than the "adult" polling places. In some cases, more than a MILE further... Sylvan comes to mind, where the fire station is just up the road while the student union some distance away.

It was a very good decision for the personal political careers of a few individuals, including those looking for positions with the Deval Patrick Administration (which they have now obtained) but overall it was a very bad decision.

And remember that this was all done with UMass SATF (student fee) money that was supposed to be used for student activities.

And the worst thing is that you really have to have the students voting WITH the townies if they are going to be at all concerned about townie issues.

> The town might consider
> advertising the voter registration deadline and the
> election as a public notice
> in all area newspapers

Students don't read the _Collegian_ anymore - half of its press run is never even delivered, going straight to recycling - and the university doesn't use it to announce anything anymore, either.

There are all-student emails and activities/issues that certain university administrators approve (including sales in the bookstore) are sent to all students. And everything else is largely ignored.

Even better, the Student Government demands the right of prior approval on all statements made by all candidates - you can't even send an IM without the text being approved by a political hack.

So the issue is - and I thought about this once - is that there is no way that a candidate could advertise his position to the UMass students, let alone organize a voting block for victory. Unless you know the *exact* spelling of someone's last name (and often first name) you literally can't get a phone number or email address.

Now if you are a member of an approved group the administration gives you this information. The various minority groups get lists of minority students, the various activist groups get lists from friendly academic departments, and politically approved events get the all campus emails.

For example, a Deval Patrick Pep Rally was advertised with such an email back during the election.

Students are upset, rioting has causes. But there are some very effective means being employed to keep us from communicating with each other - including keeping us from physically congregating -- and getting a candidate elected in such circumstances is virtually impossible...

And why bother vote when you have no one to vote FOR?


O'Reilly said...

Read this article on an expert rating of drug danger to substance user by law enforcement and health professionals.

O'Reilly said...

Make sure the chamber is empty.

Anonymous said...

O'Reilly said...
Make sure the chamber is empty.

And this is why we will never again have a military draft as long as people who were junior officers in Vietnam are still in positions of authority.

They remember how bad things were in the 1970s and don't want it again.

O'Reilly said...

Yes, the military prefers the volunteer army. Former General Wesley Clark said just that at a speech at Johnson Chapel not too long ago.

Robert Phillips said...

While I respect Mr. Cuttings opinions, I disagree with his statement about students participating in Town Meeting or running during intersession. I know many students who live in Amherst year round, I work with them, they are here and able to run.
Secondly, I am a full time student, with a full class load and spend about 30 hours a week on my class work. I am also a member of the SGA at Holyoke Community College which adds about 10-12 hours to each school week. I also work 40 hours a week year round, and yet I am able to make time to take part in Town Government in Town Meeting.
If people want something badly enough they will often find a way to accomplish it. The UMASS students I have spoken with over the past several days don't care about town politics, not because they don't know about it, but because they don't care. By the way, these are the ones who live in Amherst year round, many of them having grown up in Amherst.

Anonymous said...

You need to distinguish between those who have roots in Amherst and those who don't - and the vast vast VAST majority of UM students are in the latter category.

Unlike those who grew up here, even (respectfully) unlike those going to smaller institutions such as HCC and even AC, the only way that UMass students will care about the town (in any capacity) is if there is a critical mass of other UM students so concerned.

The town doesn't want us (UM kids from away) to be involved, the general level of bigotry expressed is worse than any racism I have ever seen anywhere in my lifetime.

I think that the students will eventually vote in the ultimate election - over time Amherst (and thus UMass Amherst) will loose popularity vis a vis other college communities. UMass Boston is building dorms - once there is a critical undergraduate mass shift east, this whole game will be over.

Been through "ToyTown" (Wichendon) recently?


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