Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lowell Voting Petition on the Streets..

"Never, never, never quit!" -- Winston S. Churchill, Greatest Figure of the 20th Century

Last night I attended a presentation to the bloggers given by Dr. Victoria Falhberg of ONE Lowell about the proposed change in the city's electoral system away from winner-take-all, first-nine-past-the-post (or first six, let's not neglect the School Committee here) to Proportional Representation Choice Voting.

To the voter, this change means that instead of nine equal votes, you could rank your selected candidates in a weighted way, numbering 1 through 9. The effect, which I've already written about a few times here before (I caught Victoria during the UML lectures with Prof. Berkowitz, a speech to the neighborhood groups, and then again at an LDNA meeting) would be that someone could be elected with fewer total votes. That helps dedicated "factions" (i.e. artists, Back Central residents, Cambodian-Americans, etc.) have a realistic shot at seeing a candidate elected, which I believe would, in turn, lead to greater overall participation in local elections.

To the voter, it also means that it's not just "your vote" but specifically your "#1 vote" that's being courted. So even for entrenched incumbents for whom victory might seem like an afterthought in the current system, there's a strong motivation to go after the individual voter for his or her #1 or #2 (which matters a whole lot) as opposed to a #8 or #9. Again, this would spell more interest and involvement in municipal elections, as it would almost certainly lead to more intense campaigning.

For those reasons, it's a good idea, and it's why I'll sign the petition as soon as I get my hands on it, and it's why I'll vote for the initiative in November. (For more info, I'll refer you to Left in Lowell, Right-Side-of-Lowell, Richard Howe, or the searchable archives here if you punch in 'Fahlberg').

The problem with November, though, is that for this thing to pass, it's going to require a majority on the "pro" side (easy enough, right?) but also that at least 1/3 of all registered voters show up. Chances of us seeing the latter aren't so hot, even with the specter of heightened interest in some of the prospective Young Turk candidacies and those hoping to make sure our appointed officials can avoid threats of bodily harm to their sensitive areas.

My one piece of advice to Victoria Falhberg: If for any reason this winds up a dollar short due to insufficient turnout this November, please don't let this excellent idea die on the vine.

As I said last night to what seemed like head nods among the others present (Dick Howe, Cliff Krieger, Lynne Lupien and Michael Gallagher), losing and coming back to fight another day is one of the most venerated traditions in American political history.

The most famous example we all know from school is Abraham Lincoln and all his unsuccessful bids for seemingly minor offices in Illinois. But even for modern pols like Bill Clinton (lost a bid for Congress and failed in his first AR gubernatorial re-election bid), George W. Bush (lost his Congressional bid from Midland many moons ago), George H.W. Bush (Senate bid lost to Lloyd Bentsen) and Barack Obama (1st IL district in 2000), the loss and comeback is as much a part of our political culture as is red, white, and blue bunting and funny-looking hats.

This could be re-introduced in an even-numbered year, when folks still turn out in droves to vote for State Gov. seats, 5th CD seats, U.S. Senate seats, Governor, etc. The 1/3 presence would be met, the majority could carry the day, and the local political landscape could be changed.

One other interesting point I'll mention from last night before my morning run: The issue of whether "blow-ins" feel a sense of political efficacy in Lowell. Being one myself, I said something that I've been meaning to write about here for some time: In the year-plus since I bought my condo on Market Street, I've explored a LOT of nooks and crannies in this city. I've talked to a lot of people, been to my share of meetings, and stuck my nose in anywhere it seemed like it might fit.

Call me Pollyanna-ish, or wet behind the ears, or whatever, but my honest opinion so far is that most talk of "blow-ins" and whether you can only be accepted in Lowell if you can trace three generations back through Lowell High has come exclusively from blow-ins themselves. In fact, fellow blow-ins are the only people who've tried to "out-Lowell" me or talk about the authenticity or street cred of such-and-such a person, organization, or place. Amazingly (or perhaps not, as that's my entire point here), the Lowell pedigreed crowd hasn't gone there -- probably because they don't see the need.

But anyway, back to the initiative -- if you're interested in getting involved, or just looking for more clarification, pay attention to the blogs and the Sun because this is going to gain a lot of steam in the next few months. You can also e-mail Victoria Falhberg at for more info about the petition or the proposed change itself.

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