Summer Surprise : Council Votes to Preserve Preliminary Election

A special meeting of City Council was held on Monday, July 29, to discuss the future of the September Preliminary Election, and while most had anticipated a vote to cancel it, councilors surprised everyone by voting 9-0 to hold it.

Councilors Fred Capone, Rosa DiFlorio, John Hanlon, Michael Marchese, Wayne Matewsky, Michael McLaughlin, Peter Napolitano and Stephen Simonelli voted unanimously against a petition by Council President Richard Dell Isola that would have asked the State to eliminate the Preliminary Election on September 17. All current nominees would have been automatically added to the voting ballot for the November general election.

This election has historically been required for the office of the School Committee for a two-year term and the office of City Council for a two-year term, provided there were enough candidates to trigger a Preliminary. Council President Dell Isola explained that the benefit of eliminating the election was twofold; it would save taxpayer money (roughly $250 per voter or $50,000 for the entire election) and give trainees more time to learn how to operate the City’s new voting machines. 

Other cities have voted for similar measures, including Lynn, Melrose and Revere.

Five of the councilors present at the meeting would be affected by election in September, prompting Councilors McLaughlin and Napolitano to ask whether or not it would be a conflict of interest for these councilors to vote on the item.

Assistant City Solicitor Keith Slattery assured Council that this wouldn’t constitute a conflict.

“I don’t see a conflict,” he said. “This body has every right to petition the legislature in this fashion. Procedurally you’re allowed to do this.”

“You want to save the taxpayers money, but you want to support candidates who are spending money on literature saying voting is in September,” said Councilor DiFlorio. “What’s fair is fair.”

Councilor Napolitano said he had launched an informal survey on social media to gauge the community’s input on the matter. He said the feedback overwhelmingly supported waiving the preliminary election.

“This is about saving taxpayer money. $50,000 is a teacher’s salary,” he said. “This gives new candidates more time to campaign and volunteers more time to learn how to operate the voting machines.”

Councilor Napolitano emphasized that this would only apply to this particular election, and would not be applied to all Preliminary Elections, such as the one required for the office of mayor. He also dispelled the misconception that waiving the election would erase certain candidates from the race.

Councilor Capone also did some informal research of his own and came to the same conclusion.

“Voting is at the heart of our democracy and I don’t think it’s fair to [eliminate the election] without public participation and an opportunity for the voters to weigh in,” he said. “Without full support of the electorate, I can’t support it. I don’t think it’s appropriate for this body to do that.”

Councilor McLaughlin agreed, stating that eliminating September’s election could set a troublesome precedent where Council can eliminate future elections at will. 

Ultimately, all eight councilors present voted to preserve the September Preliminary Election – making Sept. 17 the first wave of voting on School Committee at-large and Council at-large in this City Election season.

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