Monday, December 9, 2013
By Amy Calder firstname.lastname@example.org
WATERVILLE — City Clerk Patti Dubois is urging people to get out and vote Nov. 5 — and not just because it is a civic duty and privilege.
She is concerned that voter turnout may be low enough that a ballot question asking voters to approve proposed changes to the city charter may become moot.
For a vote on proposed charter changes to be valid, state law requires that 30 percent of the number of ballots cast in the last gubernatorial election be cast on Nov. 5.
Dubois said 1,634 voters must cast ballots in the election. That number is 30 percent of 5,446, the number of ballots cast in the last gubernatorial election. With only a Kennebec Water District trustee race, several state bond questions and a few local candidates running unopposed on the ballot, this year’s off-election doesn’t appear to be attracting much interest, Dubois said.
“It would be disappointing to not have enough voters cast to have a valid decision on the charter,” Dubois said Tuesday.
The city’s Charter Commission has proposed many changes as part of the ballot question dealing with the charter. One proposed change is to discontinue the annual practice of electing wardens and ward clerks and to allow the city clerk to choose people to serve in those positions.
The city charter is like a rule book of how the city operates. Edward Lachowicz, co-chairman of the now-disbanded Charter Commission, said the proposed change regarding wardens and ward clerks makes sense because the city has a hard time getting enough candidates to run for those positions.
Lachowicz also is concerned about voter turnout this year and urges people to get out and vote.
“We had an issue back in 2005 where a charter passed, but without enough votes, and it failed,” he said.
A warden supervises areas and activities at the polling place on Election Day. Those activities include checking voters in, distributing ballots to voters, moving traffic in and out of the polling place, supervising the ballot machines and counting ballots at the end of the night, according to Dubois.
A ward clerk assists the warden. For instance, if a warden has to step out of the polling place temporarily, the ward clerk steps in to perform the duties.
Each ward is supposed to have both a warden and ward clerk, but not enough people seek the positions to do that, Dubois said.
Other changes proposed by the Charter Commission include:
• Authorizing the council to elect a candidate for a vacant council or school board seat by written ballot. Currently, a councilor nominates a candidate for a vacant council seat and then the entire council votes on that candidate by a show of hands. If the nomination fails, another councilor nominates a candidate and voting continues until a candidate is elected.
The proposed change would eliminate the nomination process, Lachowicz said: each councilor would write his or her own name on a written ballot, along with the name of the candidate of his or her choice. If the vote is 4–2, the candidate with four votes would win. If it is 3–3, the process is postponed to the next council meeting. If there is no majority vote and say, three or more candidates are vying for the position, councilors would vote on the two candidates who received the most votes.
“This is a super-mini-version of instant runoff voting,” Lachowicz said. “The change is to ensure that whoever is selected is selected with a majority of council support and there was no bias in the voting by knowing how other councilors are voting.”
Under the current system, the mayor may break a tie, but that authority would be removed if the change is approved.
• Extending the amount of time petitioners have to introduce ordinances or initiatives and submit petition signatures for such initiatives from 45 days to 90.
• Extending the time for a council action to go into effect. Now when the council votes on an item, the vote goes into effect 10 days after the vote and the mayor has 21 days to veto the action, according to Lachowicz. If the change is approved, the council action would go into effect 21 days after the vote, and the mayor would have 21 days to veto it.
• Creation of an ethics committee that would draft and maintain an ethics ordinance.
“It would be seven people — three-year terms — appointed by the mayor with approval by the council,” Lachowicz said. “It can’t contain any elected officials or their immediate family.”
The charter requires petitioners to submit an entire petition to the city clerk for verification of names, addresses and other information, according to Lachowicz. A proposed change would authorize them to submit the petition, one page at a time, which is more convenient for the clerk, he said.
The 10-member charter commission, of which Peter Lyford was co-chairman with Lachowicz, met regularly this year, from January to August. Seven commission members were elected and three were appointed by the council. Two public hearing were held.
Lachowicz, who is running unopposed for the city’s Ward 2 council seat, said commission members voted unanimously to recommend the proposed charter changes.
“Everything that we did was unanimous, and we established from the beginning that we wanted to operate by consensus, and we did.”
Residents of the city’s seven wards will vote from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 5 at the American Legion Hall on College Avenue.
Dubois said residents also may vote by absentee ballot from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at City Hall. Otherwise, requests for absentee ballots must be received by the close of business Oct. 31. People may call 680-4211 for more information.
Amy Calder — 861-9247