Jack Mitchell and others gathered in December to kick around ideas on how the city can provide more equitable representation to all 105,000 residents while increasing voter participation. They are well meaning people who want to increase participation and make a positive change in the city.
Should city councilors be elected by district rather than at-large? Should terms be lengthened or term limits enacted? Should compensation be increased? What is the best strategy to present their ideas for change to a City Council whose members may have their seats threatened by some of those changes
Do we have to make changes to the way we elect councilors? Do we scrap plan-E and go with an elected mayor? Should we elect people for the License Commission, Historical Board and Election Commission?
Jack stated he wanted to build on the momentum gathered in 2009 when the change was presented as “choice voting” but lost 5,136 “yes” votes compared to 6,786 in opposition.
Those of us who have lived here all our lives know it isn’t the first time Lowell has asked if we needed to change the way we elect people here in the city. We had a chance to make change back in 1993 / 1994.
In 1993 there were 30 candidates in the primary election and these four referendum questions appeared on the ballot but no clear demand was voiced by the voters. Would the votes today be that different?
Question 1 – Do you support keeping the present Plan E form of government? Yes-8,234. No-8,779. A pretty even split with only about 500 in favor of changing plan E
Question 2 – Do you support a change in the city charter to provide for an elected mayor as chief executive instead of an appointed city manager? Yes-10,0441. No-6,760. This was a wider margin and showed that maybe a strong Mayor might be preferred.
Question 3 – Do you support a charter change that would provide for district councilors instead of elections at large? Yes-6,841. No-9,213. Again not a huge split and the argument I expect that I would hear is that the high turnout voting areas in the city (Belvidere, Upper Highlands) have councilors who live there so they are not in favor of limiting how many members can come from that area.
Question 4 – Do you support a limit on terms of all elected officials in the city of Lowell to a maximum of 4 two-year terms in office? Yes-11,946. No-5,093. 8 year is a good run and this was a two to one in favor.
So what happened in 1994 after so many people ran and at least a couple of questions looked like they could pass? Nothing ..no changes were made.
My feeling is if we have tried in the past and failed why do we need to try again and again. Why not try and change the day, time and method before we attempt again to change form of representation?
Is it time we find a way to allow Internet Voting? Can we make Election Day a State Holiday? Do we move voting day to a Saturday or make it a two day event?
I think above everything else we do we need to have a strong focus and outreach to all people and educate and inform everyone on the process first before we again attempt to change the charter .
If we are going to give 17 year olds the right to vote, can we at least be assured that starting in junior high we teach civics and talk about the process of city versus state versus national elections and make sure our young people have an understanding of the process. Maybe assigning the students to watch a School Committee Meeting, Council Meeting or Technical School meeting live (well 2 out of 3 anyway) to show the process and have students write about it. Can we make sure we stress the importance of voting and why we are so fortunate to have the freedom to vote and should use it.
How about the CBA-CTI- Cambodian Outreach Assoc. and all the neighborhood groups band together and educate the population of the city and get them to participate. People need to know first WHY they need to vote before telling them that we are changing the rules. Teach them why their vote is important when they have to work one or two jobs, take care of the kids, grandkids, in-laws, out-laws, get bills paid, sidewalk shoveled and garbage cleaned and picked up. How voting can affect your tax bill, water bill, food bill and what your school and city has to offer.
We need to stop trying to change the current representation and start first to get more people educated, informed and participating before we again try to change the form of Government.