by Glenn C. Koenig, webmaster at Town Wide Mall
The next Town Election in Maynard, Massachusetts is Tuesday, 2 May 2023, from 7 AM until 8 PM, at the Fowler School, 3 Tiger Drive. There is a full summary of the election on the town’s web site here:
On that page there is a link to a sample ballot, showing the names of the people running for each office:
The next step is getting to know the qualifications of each individual candidate, and, how they are likely to address the issues they will face, once elected to office.
As there is only one contested race, I have located some information for each candidate:
The Maynard Democratic Town Committee has scheduled a meeting Thursday, 20 April, at 7:00 PM at the Maynard Public Library, to which candidates for Select Board have been invited. The Facebook event page is:
WAVM will stream an event called the Maynard Candidate Forum, where each candidate will take turns to respond to a common set of questions posed to them both. It is scheduled for Tuesday, April 25th, at 3:00 PM, one week before the election. This event is being coordinated by the Assabet Valley Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters - Acton Area . There is a flyer for this event here (see "Download File" link, below). If you are not able to be online for this event at 3 PM, a recording will be posted on the WAVM web site and WAVM's YouTube channel for later viewing.
(I will add more resources here, as I learn about them.)
=== Comment ===
Low Voter Turn Out at Local Elections:
Historically, turn out at town elections has been very low. Last year’s town election report, (May 2022), for Maynard, is available here:
This report shows that there were over 8,000 registered voters in Maynard at the time, but just over 600 voted. At the bottom, it shows “Voter Turnout 7.4%”
Compare that to the state election the following November (2022), here:
The vote totals are near the top of this page. It shows that 60% of voters came to the polls. The contrast is even more stark when comparing the results from November 2020, when there was a presidential election as well:
At the bottom of that page it shows a turn out of 83%
So why is there such a big disparity? 83% in Nov. 2020, 60% in Nov. 2022, but only 7% locally? Why would so few voters come to the polls for Maynard? After all, with many fewer voters than there are in state or national elections, it would seem that an individual vote would be more likely to influence the result.
I hear people say it’s due to “voter apathy” or “people just don’t care anymore” and so forth. But I don’t buy that; I don't think it’s right to blame the voters themselves. I think there are some very important reasons that voters are discouraged. Here are a few:
1. Scheduling. In Massachusetts, there are essentially two kinds of municipalities, cites and towns. Federal, state, and local city elections all take place in November, on the first Tuesday. Only towns have their elections in the spring instead. To make matters worse, each town sets its own election day, so there is no state wide heads-up or regional news coverage for these elections. Unless you’re paying attention, they’re easy to miss.
2. Separate ballot. Races for offices in cities appear on the same ballot as the federal and state ones do (in November). As voters are already going to the polls, it’s natural to vote for everything at once. But for towns, there is nothing in November to alert voters about elections in the Spring.
3. Voter Information Lacking. In order to feel confident when voting, voters want to know as much as they can about the candidates running. Most of us get our information from news media, whether it be on TV, radio, newspapers, or online sources. Those sources have frequent reports about races and candidates for state and federal offices. But when it comes to individual towns in Massachusetts, there are almost no news media left available to provide information (see “No News?” below).
4. Paucity of candidates. The sample ballot for this election in Maynard shows six races. In five of them, the number of candidates exactly matches the number of seats open, so candidates are running uncontested. In only one race, a one year position for the Select Board, are there two candidates vying for one seat. So, essentially, voters are being asked to go to the polls to elect one of two people for just one seat on the 5 seat Select Board. The rest will “win” whether voters vote for them or not; it’s highly unlikely that a write-in candidate will win instead.
5. Complexity of Government. Although Maynard is a small town, when compared with others nearby (5 square miles and 11,000 population), it still has to provide all the services of any town, many of which are mandated by state law. We have a public school system as well as departments of fire, police, roads, buildings, water, sewer, recreation and parks, cemeteries, and libraries. Almost all employees are union members, for which contracts must be negotiated, based on state and federal laws. Therefore, even the officials we elect have very limited power over many of the town’s operations and functions, as most of what they do must conform to all these laws, regulations, and contracts.
6. Our legislative branch. When this election is over, we’re still not done. The officials we elect do not determine the town’s budget, (and the basis for the tax rate), nor do they have the power to enact or amend the town’s bylaws nor zoning bylaws. All that is decided at Town Meeting, 12 days later, (<——see link), where registered voters are invited to show up to vote on all those things. For those new to town, Town Meeting is formally known as a “unicameral legislature.” That’s like a “House” without a “Senate.” In this case, unlike at the state and federal level, the “representatives” in our “congress” are not elected by the voters, they are the voters (well, ... the ones who attend, at least).
I’m won't go into further detail about how Town Meeting works here, that’s for another time. What I do want to emphasize, however, is that I don’t blame anyone or any political party for these factors, listed above! My point is simply that democracy, on the local level, has a lot of challenges to consider, based on many factors that I think are seldom discussed openly.
The Beacon Villager ceased publishing a newspaper (a actual printed edition) back in May 2022. David Mark reported the details on his web site back then:
So, I checked out the web site shown in his story:
All I saw was regional and national news; nothing specific to Maynard. There was a button to subscribe, but when I clicked on it, it was not clear what I was about to pay for, as the word “Maynard” was not mentioned anywhere. I did not bother to call the 800 number. Even when the newspaper was still being published, most of the content was regional, with very little specific to Maynard. So, I didn’t hold out much hope that that would have changed much, now that the printed edition has ceased.
Maynard has both a TV and a radio station, operated by WAVM, originating at our high school:
They broadcast on the radio at 91.7 FM, but only on weekdays, during afternoons and evenings.
In order to see WAVM’s TV programming, you have to have a cable TV subscription or watch specific programs on their YouTube channel:
There, you can find video recordings of recent meetings of the Maynard Select Board, the School Committee, and the Finance Committee, along with a few special events, diligently recorded by high school student volunteers (a big Thank You to all those who do this work!).
This is a valuable service, admittedly, but these meetings typically run from 1 1/2 to 3 or 4 or even 5 hours! Most voters in town who work or have a family to care don't have the time to watch that many hours of meetings on a regular basis. Judging from the view counts shown for each (on YouTube), only a few dozen viewers manage to do so. (I don't have access to how many people watch these meetings, live, on cable TV.)
What’s needed perhaps, in addition to this complete and thorough “gavel to gavel” coverage, is some kind of summary, where the issues discussed and the decisions made are reviewed in a more concise format. Long ago, the local newspaper used to perform this function, but in the past few years, the newspaper didn’t even devote one full time reporter to Maynard; a single reporter was assigned to cover more than one town. So there was very little information that citizens needed to be adequately prepared for voting.
As an alternative (to newspaper reporting), the highlights of a meeting could be presented in a 10 or 15 minute TV program, although I’m not certain if that was ever done in town.
To write such news stories or create such a TV program takes someone in the role of reporter to sit through each entire meeting, take notes, read the documents presented, perhaps do some background research, and then write or produce the resulting coverage to be published. Even then, it’s not easy to summarize the content of a meeting, yet adequately cover the issues well enough so that voters can feel well enough informed. It’s tricky to find a good balance.
Newspapers, TV & radio news programs, and now podcasts and web sites ... these all require labor, money, and other resources. Historically, newspapers were partly funded by advertising placed in them by local and regional businesses. But over the past 20 years or so, our buying habits have shifted from local and regional to online shopping. Click on a product on your phone or computer screen and have it delivered to your doorstep the next day - that is pretty hard to resist! You can see the result of this in the form of empty storefronts in town, “dead” big box stores (such as K-Mart, in nearby Acton) and boarded up stores in nearby shopping malls.
As revenues for local businesses have declined, thus have their advertising budgets. Newspapers' ad revenues declined as a result, but they were reluctant to substantially increase newsstand prices or subscription rates for fear of losing circulation. And circulation is essential to promise enough readers for the advertisers who remain to make it worthwhile to continue to pay for ads. (If circulation declines too rapidly, the entire newspaper may collapse as a result.)
As a result, local newspapers have been in decline for the last few decades, the news in them has become more “watered down” or replaced entirely by stories copied from regional or national news “feeds” (such as from USA Today, or the Associated Press, etc.).
So historically there has been a synergy between businesses, local media, and local government, each depending on the continued functioning of the other. Now that is changing, leaving the question open as to our path forward.
Where We Stand; Where We're Going.
Where do we go from here? We have the opportunity to develop new ways to share information and news among people in town. It is unlikely that we can resurrect the media or business environment of the past. The lifeblood of any democracy is the free flow of relevant information, along with a population that is ready to avail themselves of that information.
What are good ways to do that now? Is it a loose collection of groups on Facebook? Perhaps that can help. But Facebook is a business - a “commercial oriented commons” if you will, so it has it’s own priorities, its pros and cons. For one thing, it is designed to keep people logged in and glued to their screens for hours at a time. It’s not for everybody, nor should it be.
This web site, Town Wide Mall, is my attempt to provide at least something to add to the local conversation. I’m just one person who cares about community, and my time and energy are limited, but there are plenty of other people who care as much or more than I do. I invite others to join in on a conversation and see what we can come up with.
Meanwhile, I’m compiling a list of community groups and non-profit organizations which I will share on this web site with everyone, freely available (in the Community Guide section, currently being developed).
Many of these groups are taking on roles in our town that supplement what town government can do, given the limited resources available. It is my hope to support and help expand these groups, so that their contributions can enhance the vitality of the town for everyone who lives, works, or visits here.