Last night, my phone rang. It was a robocall.
Good evening. This is Superintendent of Schools Jean Franco calling on behalf of the Lowell Election Commission. This is a reminder that Wednesday, April 10th is the last day to register to vote for the upcoming special primary on April 30th. The City of Lowell election office will be open until 8 p.m. on Wednesday evening. If you have any questions please call the election office at 978-674-1200. Thank you and have a great evening.
Great. Apple pie civic engagement. Parents and teachers reminded to register to vote for a Federal election. Who could object? Let’s start with Red Mass Group.
A concerned parent of a student in the Lowell Public School system called me yesterday to tell me about School Department resources being used in a voter registration drive. Lowell, like many communities has a sort of reverse 911 system that can do auto calls to parents with children in the system. It is to be used for things like snow days, and to warn of emergencies. This week the City of Lowell used the system in a voter registration drive. Red Mass Group has confirmed from other Lowell residents, that only parents of children in the Lowell School System got the message. The message was sent on two consecutive nights.
Now having voters registered is a noble goal. But using the a system to only register certain groups of people seems wrong. Why were all residents of the City not informed in the same way?
Red Mass Group will be filing a public records request with the Lowell School Department for all records regarding this phone call.
The concerned parent (who seems to be more than just a parent) then called the Lowell Sun.
Typically a community uses a reverse 911 call in an emergency.
The technology is very useful for school departments, who must notify parents in an instant in the event of an emergency, or cancellation.
But a concerned Lowell parent and former candidate for elected office contacted the newspaper Monday wondering whether a reverse 911 call featuring School Superintendent Jean Franco urging people to register to vote by today’s state deadline was a proper use of that service.
The blog Red Mass Group also picked up the issue.
After listening to the call, there’s no question it’s Franco.
The Column Blog agrees with Red Mass Group that registering voters is indeed a “noble goal.”
But to whom was the call made? Just to parents? If so, why just parents? Why not call all city residents?
The call also raises an issue that’s generated many a recent headline: the use of public property for political purposes.
Franco said the call went out twice, and only to families of children enrolled in Lowell’s public schools. That means about 1,000 residences got the call.
Franco said she made the call on behalf of the city’s Law Department, which oversees the Election Division.
Franco said the request did cause her to pause, since it’s an unconventional use of the system. However, she did it in the spirit of partnership with the Law Department, while noting the call didn’t come close to endorsing anyone.
The Column Blog has reached out the Solicitor Christine O’Connor to learn what prompted the request to Franco.
The state’s recent case against former treasurer Tim Cahill, who was alleged to have used the lottery to boost his unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial campaign, was built on the public property for political gain premise. The state, however, didn’t prove its case and Cahill walked.
And if you’ve watched television lately, you’ve probably noticed a PSA by Secretary of State William Galvin — who is elected — urging people to register to vote.
Heck, Lowell city council candidates have announced their candidacies on the steps of City Hall. If pols aren’t supposed to use public property for political purposes, is that cool?
It’s still a murky issue, no doubt, but the state’s prosecution of Cahill, based on beefed-up ethics laws, should put pols on notice, even if the case was ultimately unsuccessful.
So, the mere act of telling people they need to register to vote is a use for political gain? Really? The Superintendent of Schools will gain when people register to vote in a special senate primary?
Red Mass Group says the district’s robocall system ” is to be used for things like snow days, and to warn of emergencies.” Obviously, the author doesn’t get calls through the system. In addition to snow days, you get robocalls about cultural events, early dismissals, report card distributions, and a plethora of other school and community related messages.
Political gain? Well, maybe some folks think there is political gain from keeping Lowell parents and teachers from hearing an invitation to go to City Hall to register for the senate primary. Let’s raise a stink. Maybe they’ll stop.
What a shame.