Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The 18% Solution?

Amherst Select Board voted unanimously to call Mega School "Special Election" 3/28

The Amherst Select Board became pretty flustered on Monday night when discussing the $66.3 million Mega School vote coming up for the 4th time at the March 28th election, with Chair Alisa Brewer blurting out she was "beyond frustrated" with a murky response from Town Counsel, KP Law.

The SB has unanimously supported the Mega School the previous three times and probably know how remote the odds are of it passing only days before the drop dead deadline from the Mass School Building Authority.



Click to enlarge/read



Everyone agrees that in order for the Town Meeting recent rejection to be overturned the voters must support the ballot question by a two thirds margin, because that was the hurdle it required from Town Meeting.

The murky part is does the question also require 18% of the voters to agree (2,983 votes) to overturn ... or just an 18% total turnout?   A previous town attorney, Alan Seewald, thought it was the former.

And what if someone takes a Referendum ballot and feeds it into the scanner blank, does that count towards the turnout?

But let's look at this backwards and the interpretation of previous Town Attorney actually makes a lot more sense.

Pretend Town Meeting on January 30 had approved the Mega School by the necessary two thirds vote and Save Amherst's Small Schools went out and got the necessary 5% of 16,569 "active" voters (829) to force a Referendum Town Meeting's approval.

Now remember the Referendum simply puts the question as previously presented to Town Meeting before the voters with the same quantum of vote required for passage (two thirds) or FAILURE (one third).

Thus at the March 28th  Referendum SASS would only need one-third of the voters to vote "NO" to the question of whether the town should finance a $66.3 million Mega School.

Therefor it would be pretty easy to overturn ANY decision of Representative Town Meeting that requires a two thirds vote of support, which all zoning articles and any borrowing require:  Get 5% of the voters to sign the Referendum petition and then only a 33% plus one vote at the ballot box.

I can't imagine that's what the Founding Mothers had in mind.

16 comments:

Peter Vickery said...

With all due respect to my fellow attorneys, the text is not ambiguous. Overturning the decision requires that 18% of all active voters "shall so vote." The word "so" is not redundant; it means that whatever the proportion necessary on a given question (one-half or two-thirds) that proportion must also constitute at least 18% of all active voters.

Larry Kelley said...

Yes, I'm now pretty convinced that is the case.

Can we send a bill for services to the town?

Anonymous said...


Or put another way: 18% of active voters must vote ‘yes’ while also getting 2/3 of the vote..

But that’s not how the town’s attorney had been ‘encouraged’ to interpret ‘shall so vote’. According this ‘new’ interpretation the 18% percent refers to voter turn-out???

The Select board and School committee, wholly owned by the phony so-called ‘Amherst-for-All’ clique, already voted on passing this thing. They want their friggin’ MEGA-SCHOOL and they want it now, democratic process be damned!

Anonymous said...

You can send a bill, but there would be no obligation to pay.

How many people have to support a referendum to increase the 18% to 50% or more for future elections so this could be more reasonable? 18% seems awkwardly low.

Anonymous said...

what % of registered voters (and how many registered voters were there?) voted in the Nov election? Do we know how many are currently registered? Info from the Town registrar?

Anonymous said...

What an educated town. Anon 4:42 not only asked reasonable questions, also posted how he or she (or ?) can find the answers. Looking forward to what was found out.

Anonymous said...

I just got my town census in the mail. Maybe town meeting should become a mailed survey where the whole town could vote on everything just like in the good old days!

Anonymous said...

WHO CARES, raise the taxes. I live to support the school system even though I have never had any children in it. God, can't we spend money where it is really needed like public safety and public works.

Rebecca Casa said...

So if 18% overall turnout is not met then it doesn't pass. But if 66 % turn out the 44 % have to vote yes for school? Is that correct ?

Larry Kelley said...

Well we only get a 66% turnout for a Presidential election.

Should that miracle happen they would need two thirds of the voters to agree to overturn Town Meeting.

Laura Quilter said...

Rebecca Casa --

The 18% requirement is to get the numeric equivalent of 18% of the "active registered voters". The "active registered voters" are a little more than 16k, and 18% of that number is just shy of 3000 (2,983 according to Larry above).

I agree with Peter Vickery, as do all other lawyers I've spoken to: "shall SO vote" clearly refers to voting to reverse the decision of Town Meeting, which in this case means to vote to APPROVE the project.

To sum up: TO pass this project, proponents need:
* around 2,983 people to vote FOR the project; AND
* 2/3 of whatever number vote to vote for the project.

Here are three very close outcomes for example, assuming the 2,983 number:

If 2,983 people vote FOR the project and 1490 vote AGAINST the project, the project passes: It has the minimum 18% voting to reverse town meeting and pass the project, AND it has 2/3 of the total vote needed to pass the project.

If 2,983 people vote FOR the project and 1500 vote against it, then the project FAILS (because it failed to achieve 2/3 of the votes).

If 2,980 people vote FOR the project, regardless of how many vote against it, then the project FAILS (because it failed to achieve the 18% requirement).

Anonymous said...

There is more morally relevant math.

Folks would condone a system where less than 5% of taxpayers can vote and the other 95% would have to comply?

We have other more respected systems where we use the opposite logic. The courts and science. They both respect the 95% confidence interval because we know that 5% is irrelevant in a group of 100%. We launch rockets or send people to prison for life based on 95%. No reasonable group makes a huge decision like this on 5%.

At 3000 yes votes, that is about $20,000 spent per vote at $60,000,000. Ironically, that is also the typical discount parents get per kid you send to the schools.

I hope it is a no for the good of the local families, the state and the nation. Let's focus on something that will make the town better, like having more prosperous families paying less tax.

Anonymous said...

For the nation? Brahaha! I think the nation can survive the building of an elementary school.

Anonymous said...

Sure it will survive, but also suffer when money is wasted on such low RIO expenses. Families survive when members get sick, but we dont work towards getting sick and paying dearly for it. The nation has far more than rich Amherst to care about. There are actually people in need, vs. the locals in want. Then there are the people that earned the money folks are trying to special interest away from them.

Rebecca Casa said...

Thanks Laura I'm just curious other than traffic flow/ possible cost per pupil raise thus raiding my taxes in Pelham without us getting to vite... This project has no real effect on me. It is just interesting.. yes Larry I do know the turn out will not be 66 I was just picking an easy number.

Kevin said...

Amherst Town Meeting votes in doubled override property tax increase without voters approval, http://NoDoubleOverride.com