Tweaks to election process on Marblehead Town Meeting warrant

Compared to a proposal to extend the terms of members of the Select Board to three years, three other Town Meeting articles that would tweak the way local elections are administered may prove to be less controversial. 

In Article 53, the second-to-last article on the warrant, resident Jonathan Lederman is proposing that the town accept the provisions of a state law, G.L.c. 53, §9A, which would clarify that the final date for obtaining blank nomination papers for nomination to town office shall be “48 weekday hours” prior to the hour on which nomination papers are required to be submitted for certification.

Lederman told the Current that his article may get amended before Town Meeting, as there are lingering questions about the overlap between the deadline he is proposing to move and some of the other election-related deadlines.

His intent, he said, is to give people more time — 12 days, to be exact — to decide to pull papers to run for office.

Lederman noted that G.L.c. 53, §9A could have been adopted back in 2019, when Town Meeting voters approved a bylaw change that moved Marblehead’s town election from the “Tuesday after the second Monday in May” to the “third Tuesday after the first Monday in June.” The change was designed to eliminate the need to hold two separate elections to choose members of town boards and commissions and decide the fate of proposals to override Proposition 2 1/2 that had gotten the required two-thirds majority vote at Town Meeting.

“It seems like it was an oversight,” he said.

While Lederman had not consulted her before filing his proposed article, Town Clerk Robin Michaud said that she could see no reason to object, given that all it does is change the last date to obtain nomination papers, noting that she had confirmed with state officials her understanding of the way G.L.c. 53, §9A would operate.

For example, if its provisions had been adopted prior to the 2023 election, the last day to obtain nomination papers would have been April 27, which would then have to be turned in by the May 1 deadline.

But at least for one more year, residents will still have the opportunity to do something Michaud said she has seen on occasion: people picking up papers on May 1 itself, racing around to gather the necessary signatures and returning the nomination papers later in the day.

“In some ways, it’s easier” if the change were to be adopted, Michaud said.

Clerk’s proposals

Michaud also has two articles of her own, which propose modest tweaks to election-related procedures. In Article 37, she is asking the town to accept G.L.c. 41, §110A, which would authorize the Town Clerk’s Office to remain closed and treat Saturdays as a legal holiday for the purpose of calculating the time frame for election-related filing.

Adopting Article 37 would affect the last day to register to vote in town elections, which is 10 business days before the election. Taking one Saturday out of the mix would back that deadline up by one day.

The registration deadline for state elections would not be affected because state law requires clerks’ offices to remain open on Saturdays for voter registration as those elections approach, Michaud explained.

Michaud suggested that the availability of online voter registration should help mitigate the minimal impact of officially closing her office on Saturdays.

Her other proposal, Article 38, would set the date for the annual town election of town officers a week earlier, moving it to the “second Tuesday after the first Monday in June each year” instead of the third Tuesday.

When the town voted back in 2019 to change the election date, voters could not foresee that the Juneteenth holiday, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, would soon gain widespread recognition, including by the federal government, Michaud explained.

As the first paragraph of Chapter 174 of the town bylaws currently stands, the town election would regularly fall either on Juneteenth itself or near it, adding to the challenge and expense of setting up polling places, Michaud explained.

Holding the town election while schools are still in session and before vacation plans begin to kick in could also make it easier for parents of school-age children in particular to participate, Michaud noted.

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