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%.