OPEN LETTER TO GOVERNOR PATRICK
by Clifford Krieger and Lynne Lupien, Move Lowell Forward PAC Co-Chairs
(For additional signatories, see below.)
Recently, a majority of Lowell’s City Council voted to cancel the city’s preliminary election. They argued that it costs too much just to eliminate a few candidates from the November ballot. They told us they were only thinking about the taxpayers. We believe they forgot that the taxpayers are also the voters.
The history of eliminating the primary is mixed in terms of outcomes. Sometimes it helps incumbents and sometimes challengers. That said, the primary should not be used to game the system or change the rules midstream, but to encourage participation — by voters, and by candidates.
The City Council motion became a Home Rule Petition and is now before the state legislature, pending a vote in both houses. Lowell’s state delegation have decided to back the initiative. But the question is, does this waiver to eliminate our preliminary really serve the voters?
It is a fact that it is already difficult to run for City Council, particularly for first timers. It is also a fact that eliminating a preliminary does several things to make this even harder.
The most obvious of the issues is the ballot itself. In a preliminary, the names on the ballot are randomly jumbled. This allows for a fair first contest, where name placement does not affect the outcome. Without this initial contest, the first ballot is in November, with incumbents listed first, and this, coupled with incumbent name recognition, is a barrier to any challenger, no matter how deserving, or how good their campaign.
A second barrier is that without the narrowing down of candidates, the vote is diluted among more candidates, affecting challengers disproportionately. With the winnowing of candidates, the media attention is also subsequently more focused, instead of spread among a larger number. Covering 18 candidates is already a tough job. Covering 22 or more candidates fairly means less media time for all candidates, and this affects challengers the most, as they do not have automatic name recognition.
Finally, the City Council majority also forgot the poll workers in their haste to eliminate the election. Many older city residents enjoy their day of working for the city election, and that income is likely spent locally, making a little contribution to our city’s economy. Candidates spend extra money as well, preparing for two elections. In this tough budget time, any economic activity helps. And the preliminary was already accounted for in this fiscal year’s budget.
And there’s one last, and most important, point to make: that $40,000 is a small price to pay for giving our city’s residents their voice in government. The argument that it isn’t worth having a preliminary because of low voter turnout is a strawman. If, in fact, City Councilors are disturbed by low turnout, perhaps we should be talking about ways to increase it, rather than denying voters their right to a fair democracy. Many of our nation’s greatest citizens fought, bled, and died for the right – ours, and others’ – to vote. So we wonder: why is it acceptable for our government to deny us that right just because an election is not convenient for them?
Co-signatories to this open letter include Lowell City Council candidates Paul Belley, Ryan Berard, Franchesska “Franky” Descoteaux, Jose Gabriel, Michael Holland Sr., Syed Hussain, David Koch, Joesph Mendonca, Benjamin Opara, Raymond Weicker, and James Wojas.
Other signatories include many residents, whose names have been placed on the letter sent to the Governor.