Total Recall

06May10

Massachusetts town solves voter apathy problem

Democracy in actionOutraged that only 145 voters showed up at Wakefield‘s Annual Town Meeting session to vote on the town’s $67 million FY’11 operating budget, a group of local citizens has filed a petition to recall Wakefield’s remaining 16,301 registered voters.

Acknowledging that voter recall provisions are reserved for only the most egregious situations and that a very high threshold is required for a recall to succeed, proponents of the measure nonetheless expressed confidence that they had grounds to petition for the recall.

The recall will be filed on the basis of “civic negligence,” said one proponent. “These folks couldn’t be bothered showing up to vote on how $67 million of their tax dollars will be spent,” he explained. “If that isn’t negligence, I don’t know what is.”

Asked to explain the causes of poor Town Meeting attendance, one town official was blunt.

“Mostly, it’s people not showing up,” he observed.
Town Moderator Bill Caroll
When Town Moderator William Carroll banged his gavel at 7:30 p.m. to open Monday’s Town Meeting session, 54 voters were in the Galvin School auditorium. Attendance reached its peak of 145 at 9 p.m., according to Town Clerk Mary K. Galvin.

Ironically, the petition to recall 99 percent of the town’s registered voters must go before Town Meeting. But supporters of the petition are not anticipating much of a fight from Town Meeting no-shows. Said one of the recall proponents, “I don’t doubt that it will pass. Anyone wanting to oppose the recall would actually have to attend Town Meeting. I just don’t see that happening.”

If the recall effort is successful, the 145 voters who attended Monday’s Town Meeting session would make all future decisions for the town. As the only registered voters, they would also be the only people qualified to serve in elected positions.

“It will certainly simplify Town Elections,” said one local official. “With just 145 eligible voters, we’d only need one polling place and a couple of poll workers. We could probably even do away with Election Day police details. In this fiscal climate, it would be a huge savings.”

Another local official was also open to the recall initiative. “I don’t even know who these so-called voters are,” she said. “Who knows if they even exist? I’ve never seen them.”

One Town Hall insider suggested that the recall move would simply ratify the way town business has been conducted for decades. “It’s the same 150 or so people who show up at every Town Meeting and make all the decisions,” he said.

Some officials are welcoming the recall move as the solution to an age-old dilemma.

“We’ve been trying to solve the problem of voter apathy for years,” one prominent citizen said. “Eliminating apathetic voters via a recall was a stroke of genius.”

A supporter of the voter recall petition viewed the measure as part of a trend.

“We hear a lot these days about smaller government,” he observed. “If democracy is government by the people, then I view the voter recall as downsizing government. Obviously, we don’t need all those voters.”

[This column originally appeared in the Wakefield Daily Item.]

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