Breaking Down the Ballot Questions

Simply Civics Information for Voters

[A quick disclaimer: This blog post will not endorse positions on any of the 4 ballot questions. It’s up to you to decide how to vote. With that in mind, let’s make sure you make the right decisions for you!]

When we go to the polls on Election Day, we get to vote for candidates. What’s also exciting, though, is slightly further down the ballot. We get to be legislators for a day, directly influencing policy through the ballot questions.

The 2016 ballot questions seem to be advertised everywhere across Massachusetts: on yard signs, in commercials, on the radio. You’ve seen ads about each of these issues at some point. The ballot initiatives are:

  1. Allow a Second Slot Parlor
  2. Lift the Charter School Cap
  3. Prohibit Farm Animal Containment
  4. Legalize Recreational Marijuana

The ads don’t always give us the whole picture, though. It’s crucial to learn the different dimensions of each question in order to make an informed decision on Election Day.

Luckily, there are a plethora of resources for voter education on the ballot questions. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. The Red Book

The Secretary of the Commonwealth sends a packet called “Information for Voters” to homes or registered voters in Massachusetts. There’s also a digital version online. The book contains basically everything you need to know about the general election, including information about the ballot questions. For each ballot question, the book breaks it down into what a “yes” vote would do and what a “no” vote would do. You can read the fiscal consequences and arguments in favor of or in opposition to the initiative.

If you’d like a hard copy of the book, you can pick one up at the Brookline Main Branch Library. Alternatively, you can visit your Clerk’s office.

2. WBUR’s Election Ballot Debate Series

WBUR covers the ballot questions comprehensively. Radio Boston hosted a 4-week debate series at UMass Boston with the Boston Globe. You can find recordings of each of the 4 debates on their website, along with additional reporting about the questions. You have the option to download or stream the audio from each debate. Listening to these would definitely make your commute or errands go by a lot faster!

3. WGBH at the EMK Institute Tonight (Free Event)

WGBH’s Jim Braude is moderating a second panel discussion this evening at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute about Question #2: Lifting the Charter School Cap. Tickets are still available! Register online now. Here are the details:

Thursday, October 27
7:00PM-8:30PM (Doors open at 6:00PM)
Edward M. Kennedy for the United States Senate, Boston

The panel consists of:

  • Jessica Tang, Boston Teacher’s Union Director of Organizing
  • Chris Gabrieli, Chairman and CEO of Empower Schools, Chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, and lecturer at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education
  • Michael Curry, President of the Boston branch of the NAACP; and
  • Marty Walz, former Massachusetts State Representative and Principal at Marty Walz and Associates.

If you get there early, I recommend you tour the EMK Institute! In addition to the full-scale reproduction of the U.S. Senate Chamber, the Institute also has a reproduction of Senator Edward Kennedy’s office, as well as many interactive exhibits about the Senate.

4. Vote411

Visit Vote411.org for a voter guide specific to your precinct. Type in your address and you’ll see the races on your ballot and the ballot questions. You can compare candidates’ positions and read arguments for and against ballot questions.

The best feature is that you can select how you’re voting for each race or issue, and print out your preferences to bring with you on Election Day. That way, you won’t get mixed up about what a yes or no vote means for each ballot question. You can always change your mind, of course, but it’s helpful to do your homework in advance of the big day. Just make sure you don’t leave your print-out in the voting booth, to interfere with others’ voting.

5. Myra Kraft Open Classroom

I wrote about the Myra Kraft Open Classroom in a previous post. I’m bringing it up again because it really is a great resource and because it’s relevant to this post!

Northeastern University hosts a free class each week about the election. Next week’s topic is: “Down the Ballot: Key Elections and Issues in Congress and the States.” Attendees will have an opportunity to ask the guest speakers about the ballot questions and congressional races.

Here are the details:

Wednesday, November 2nd
6:00PM-8:00PM
Northeastern University, West Village F, Room 20

To note, the class will continue to meet on Wednesdays for the rest of the semester. Following November 8th, the class will focus on President Obama’s legacy and the lessons learned from the election.

You can read more about the class schedule here.

6. People Around You

Probably the best resources are the people around you. Maybe you don’t want to talk to your friends, family, and coworkers about the presidential race because of the emotions it stirs up. Then don’t. Talk about the ballot questions instead. They’re a low-risk and fun conversation starter, and we all have something to contribute to the debate.

Ask the teachers in your life about the charter school question (#2), or family members about farm animal rights (#3). My roommates have really expanded my thinking about the implications of #3. During your lunch break at work, ask your colleagues about what they think an additional slot parlor in Massachusetts (#1) would add to the economy. When you’re out with your friends, or talking to someone in the public health field, discuss the dynamics of legalizing recreational marijuana (#4).

We each get to be policymakers on November 8th, so let’s work together to see what solutions make the most sense for our communities.

35 States

Ballot questions are not unique to Massachusetts, of course. 34 other states have ballot initiatives this November. Ballotpedia is a great resource for the election in general and has a lot of information about the ballot initiatives by state. At a glance, here are some of the big issues to follow on November 8th:

  • 9 states have questions about marijuana
  • 5 states have questions about the minimum wage
  • 5 states have questions about healthcare
  • 4 states have questions about gun laws

In addition to Ballotpedia, NPR’s Meg Anderson published a very thorough and well-researched article about ballot initiatives by state. Check it out.

Get Your Questions Answered

Research your state’s ballot questions before you get to the polls, because this is your chance to influence policy directly. Sort out the pros and cons ahead of time.

If you find any additional resources, please share them with me via email and I’ll tweet them out.

Enjoy your policymaking!

3 Civic Things To Do Today

Today will be chock full of civic opportunities, and here’s why:

  1. It’s the last day to register to vote in the November 8th election.
  2. The League of Women Voters of Brookline is hosting a Ballot Question Forum tonight at the Brookline Main Branch Library.
  3. The final presidential debate is tonight.

Voter Registration

If there’s one thing you gather from this post, I hope it’s this: make sure you’re registered to vote. We wouldn’t want you to get to the polls on November 8th and find out that you’re not on the books. To confirm your voter registration status, check out this handy tool on the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s site.

Today is the very last day to register in Massachusetts to be eligible to vote on November 8th. That said, here’s the online form. Alternatively, if you don’t have a Massachusetts driver’s license, learner’s permit, or RMV non-driver ID, head on over to your City or Town Hall this afternoon.

Once you’re all set, check with your family members, friends, colleagues, and other people in your life to make sure they’ve registered, too. If they’ve changed addresses recently, have them look up their voter registration status.

Exercise your civic duty by assisting others with theirs.

Ballot Question Forum

Next, there will be 4 ballot questions this November in Massachusetts. You can read the full ballot question text here. Briefly, here are the topics:

  1. Expanded Slot-Machine Gaming
  2. Charter School Expansion
  3. Conditions for Farm Animals
  4. Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana

Do some research ahead of time so you can make informed decisions on November 8th. One way to get informed is by attending the League of Women Voters’ Ballot Forum tonight! Here are the details:

Speaker Mary Ann Ashton, Voter Service Chair of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, will present both sides of the ballot questions with an open discussion. The event is free and open to all.

Where: Hunneman Hall, Brookline Library, 361 Washington Street, Brookline

When: October 19, 2016, Refreshments at 6 pm, Program at 6:30 pm

We’ll conclude with plenty of time for you to get ready for the debate tonight.

Final Presidential Debate

Lastly, tonight is the final presidential debate. Coverage starts at 8:30PM and the debate kicks off at 9:00PM. If you don’t have cable, there are plenty of ways to watch it online.

The League of Women Voters has a debate watching kit to help us get the most out of our debate-watching experience.

Furthermore, the NPR Politics Podcast team will be live tweeting their fact checking throughout the debate. They’ll also release a new podcast afterwards with debate analysis. I find their podcasts extremely informative and easy to listen to. I highly recommend you subscribe, because they’ll be releasing podcasts every day for the whole week leading up to the election.

Have a wonderful, civics-filled Wednesday!

This Article Warrants Your Attention

Simply Civics Brookline Town Hall

The Great American Town Meeting is small town government in all its glory.

Brookline has an upcoming Special Town Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, November 15th. 240 residents are elected to serve as Town Meeting Members (TMMs) to fulfill the town’s legislative duties. Each of the 16 precincts has 15 town meeting members, who are elected through staggered elections. Each year, 5 seats per precinct are up for election.

16 precincts x 15 seats = 240 Town Meeting Members

The Meeting of the Minds

They all convene at least once a year to balance the budget and vote on bylaws. The last Town Meeting was in May. At the Special Town Meeting in November, TMMs will address budget changes, plus take up both zoning and by-law amendments.

At Town Meeting, Members take up the “warrant,” a series of articles proposed by the Board of Selectmen or citizens. If I wanted to, I could propose a warrant. #CivicGoals.

The Life Cycle of a Warrant Article

I tend to think of Town Meeting Members as PhD candidates preparing their dissertations. Hear me out:

First, TMMs conduct a literature review. They see what’s out there in the local policy world, get familiar with the current research landscape, attend meetings, and talk with their neighbors. Then, they come up with an idea that seems to have traction.

They write up a proposal and submit it as a warrant article. They test it against the public through hearings. When it’s a complete and fully-vetted idea, they present their warrant (dissertation) at Town Meeting. Sometimes it’s accepted, and sometimes it’s not. If not, you can try again next year.

It’s no small feat.

But hey, local government is never dull.

Cars vs. Public Transit

Some warrant articles are more pertinent to some neighborhoods than others. I live in the Coolidge Corner SouthSide neighborhood of Brookline, and our Neighborhood Association has been particularly interested in Warrant Article #19. Here’s a summary:

Warrant Article 19 seeks to create a new “Transit Parking Overlay District” (TPOD) in order to reduce the minimum number of off-street parking spaces required for new residential development in areas of Brookline that are within a half-mile radius of an MBTA Green Line station.

Currently, in new residential developments in Brookline, each unit built must have 2 off-street parking spaces. The petitioner argues that if the units are close enough to public transportation, residents won’t necessarily need cars. With this article, developers could build new residential buildings without worrying about building massive underground parking garages.

There are pros and cons to this article, just like there are for others all around town.

If you’re interested in following Article 19 and contributing any comments, there are a few important upcoming hearings/meetings, prior to the Special Town Meeting:

  • The Planning Board on 10/13 (in a public hearing)
  • The Planning and Regulation subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on 10/19 (in a public hearing)
  • The full Advisory Committee on 10/26 (in a public meeting)
  • The Transportation Board (date TBD)

Taxes and Tobacco

There are 34 other warrant articles, covering a wide range of important issues to the town. Here are just a few topics:

  • Tobacco Control Regulations for Reducing Youth Access (4)
  • The Plastic Bag Ban (6)
  • The Emerald Island Special District (7 & 8)
  • Width of sidewalk at 25 Washington Street (11)
  • Electric Vehicle Charging Facilities (16)
  • Hubway Regional Bicycle Share Program (20)
  • Leaf Blowers (23) [a hot issue in Brookline- See the Moderator’s Committee on Leaf Blowers]
  • Online Posting of Police Reports (30)
  • Enhanced Brookline Tax Relief for Senior Homeowners with Modest Incomes (33)

Believe it or not, these warrant articles are the fiber of the local community. The Town Meeting process equips us to grow and adapt as a community.

Join the Conversation

My favorite part about local government is that it’s so easy to participate! You have the potential to affect public policy in your community. That is WILD!

There are many ways to get involved in Brookline’s Town Meeting.

  1. Town Meeting itself is open to the public, so mark your calendar for November 15th.
  2. If you can’t make it to Town Meeting, watch it from home! The kind folks at Brookline Interactive Group will be broadcasting it on Brookline Access Television.
  3. Contact your Town Meeting Members. If you’re a Brookline resident and you’re curious as to who your TMMs are, check out this handy list. Reach out to your TMMs and learn about what they see as the most pressing issues for your neighborhood.
  4. Get informed on the issues. The Brookline Neighborhood Alliance (the umbrella organization for neighborhood associations) typically hosts a warrant article forum. The upcoming forum is scheduled for November 10th at the Pierce School Auditorium.  Refreshments will be at 6:30 and the forum will be from 7:00PM-9:00PM.
  5. Submit comment at a hearing.
  6. Next year, consider submitting a warrant article.
  7. Lastly, you can even run as a Town Meeting Member!

Town Meeting isn’t just a Brookline phenomenon, but it happens to be very vibrant here. Each town runs Town Meeting in its own way, depending on the traditions and by-laws of the community. Cities have their own avenues for policy debate and public participation, too. Contact your City or Town Hall for more information.

As always, reach out to me with any questions.

The Concert Across America on September 25th

During my sophomore year at Boston College, I took a class in the Political Science Department with Professor Paul Christensen called Comparative Social Movements. That year, at the national level, we saw the emergence of both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements. I learned so much in that class both as a Political Science student and as a citizen. Today, with the Black Lives Matter movement building momentum across the country, I think back to the class and what I learned about what makes a social movement salient and successful.

Million Moms March

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Donna Dees. Donna organized the largest march in U.S. history to protest gun violence, the Million Moms March. On Mother’s Day in 2000, more than 750,000 people protested on the National Mall. The protesters had witnessed too many deaths at the hands of guns, and they banded together to demand political action.

Donna told me that since the March in 2000, each time our country mourns another mass shooting, she receives many, many requests to organize another march. People remember the impact of the march in 2000, and they know more work needs to be done to mobilize the support for sensible gun control legislation. They want someone to organize another march. It’s not as easy as sending out a mass e-mail to meet at the National Mall, though.

In response to these requests, Donna published a piece in the Daily Beast, called “The Mother of All Protests.” To pull off another event of that magnitude, she knew they needed organization,  time, money ($3 million), and a LOT of volunteers.

The Mother of All Concerts

Instead, Donna suggested a different type of event: a concert. More specifically, she proposed a concert across America.

There are many merits to planning a concert, rather than a march. For one, concerts are inside, thus eliminating the fear of inclement weather. Also, concert venues are wheelchair-accessible. Furthermore, there are music venues in every American city, and there are so many artists who are passionate about preventing gun violence. Why not get all the artists together, book the venues, and have simultaneous concerts across America? It’d be a social movement with music.

Not surprisingly, Donna’s idea caught on and spread. Over 100 non-profits got involved, all recognizing the need for gun control legislation. The “Concert Across America to End Gun Violence” is coming up on Sunday, September 25th, in cities across the country.

In Boston, the lineup includes:

  • Hallelujah the Hills
  • Marissa Nadler
  • Bill Janovitz with Tanya Donnelly & Mike Gent
  • Vapors of Morphine
  • M.C. Jimmy Tingle
  • Lisa Bello
  • Michelle LaPoetica
  • Rhea Ranno
  • Herb Jackson
  • Ashley Tishana
  • Arielle Chanelle
  • Dro Casso with Pretty Poisson

Visit the Facebook page for the Boston event to learn more. It will be held in Brighton Hall from 7PM-11PM. Make sure you add “Only in Boston” on Snapchat because they’ll be taking over the account for the night.

Advocacy with Authenticity

Attending the concert is a great way to get involved in the movement and learn how to make an impact in your community. The concert will empower people to contact their elected officials and coordinate political advocacy efforts city, state, and nationwide. Elevating an issue to national attention starts with picking up the phone and calling your congressman or congresswoman.

Moreover, the website includes a petition for gun violence prevention legislation.

In my Comparative Social Movements class at BC, I learned that social movements should be both centralized enough to provide structure and flexible enough to encourage creativity, authenticity, and interpersonal connection. The gun violence prevention movement seems to achieve this. With elements of centralization, the key organizers coordinated logistical details (publicity, planning, political resources). On the other hand, the concert is flexible enough to invite more than 100 nonprofits to collaborate, and artists of all genres (folk, rap, classical, etc.) to participate.

During my conversation with Donna, I saw that the movement has the leadership and energy to make a real impact in policy. Senseless gun violence is inconceivable and heart-wrenching. We watch one tragedy after the next. Music might create the space, tone, and consensus we need to move forward to a safer future.

Grassroots movements are successful when they tap into people’s values and hopes and provide a plan for change. The Concert Across America to End Gun Violence movement may do just that.

For more information about an event closest to you, check out the Concert Across America website.

A Day at the Polls

Simply Civics Election Worker

What’s even better than exercising my civic duty? Helping others to exercise theirs.

On Thursday, September 8th, I beat the sunrise and drove to the fire station in South Brookline. I spent the full state primary day there, from 6:00AM-8:40PM (with an hour lunch break), learning the ropes of election administration.

I loved every minute of it, from taping the sample ballots to the walls in the morning, to tallying up the completed ballots in the evening. In order to learn every aspect of the role, I alternated between the check-in and check-out tables, looking up voters’ addresses in the books, handing them their ballots, and passing out “I Voted” stickers.

Turning Out

Several times, the warden, clerk, and other election workers told me that the primary was nothing like the November Election Day. They referred to a drastic difference in voter turnout between the two days. I believed them, that the primary day would be slower. To be certain, I’m bracing myself for the never-ending line of voters checking in on November 8th.

Yet the people I met all day on September 8th proved to me that every election matters. Sure, the voter turnout was low. But precinct 15 was energized.

I met people who set aside their many work and family responsibilities to participate in the primary process. Some voters swung by on their way to work, and I bet they had set their alarms a little early just for the occasion. I met people who were just walking by throughout the day and popped in to vote.

Several voters came to vote on the ballot initiatives. The ballot initiatives will be on the November ballot. They voted anyway. (FYI, you can read up on the ballot initiatives here.)

Perhaps my favorite part was meeting parents who seized an opportunity for a civics lesson and opted to bring their kids to the polls.

Also, even though there weren’t any contested races for a couple parties, I spoke with residents who wanted to vote anyway. More than once, a voter took the ballot from my hands and told me, “I never miss a chance to vote.”

My Fellow Election Workers

During the lulls, when few people walked through the fire station doors, I listened to my fellow election workers with awe. It’s amazing how sitting in a polling place can inspire such fascinating conversations among strangers. Now we’re friends. We talked about our neighborhoods, the towns we grew up in, our school system, our working experiences, our families, our favorite past-times, and even our values. You all know how I feel about civic conversations.

Don’t worry, though. We didn’t discuss the candidates.

To my fellow election workers: Thank you for making my first election working experience so enlightening! I can’t wait to see you all again on November 8th.

Ballot Security

At 8PM, our clerk walked to the middle of the voting place and he closed the polls. I thought we were almost done. I was very, very wrong. Actually, that’s when a lot of the work started. We matched up the check-in list with the check-out list, and compared those to the ballot box print-out receipt of tallied votes. We crossed our t’s and dotted our i’s, carefully accounting for every vote and sealing up the envelopes.

While some people claim that ballot fraud exists, I find that very hard to believe, especially after participating in this process. No one could possibly “stuff” a ballot box. In fact, our warden and clerk approached ballot security incredibly seriously. We double- and triple-checked every tally. We followed each protocol by the letter. If that’s not enough, a police officer stood by as we opened and transported the ballots.

As a result, we stayed awhile that night, until absolutely everything was done. I can’t imagine how late we’ll stay on November 8th! It’ll be worth it.

Counting Down the Days

Surprisingly, November 8th is already right around the corner. However, it’s not too late to sign up as an election worker! If you can swing it, I highly recommend it. Just to note, the Town of Brookline compensates election workers for participating in the training and working at the polls. So that’s nice! More importantly, election administration is a great way to serve your community. To learn more or sign up, contact your Town or City Clerk’s office. Here’s the contact information for Brookline.

Precinct 15 of Brookline, see you again soon!

How I Spend My Wednesday Evenings

There are two main reasons why I love living in this “college town”:

  1. I get to tailgate and cheer on the BC Football team each fall (Go eagles!); and
  2. There are tons of free lectures, events, and opportunities for intellectual growth.

This past Wednesday evening, my roommate, Brooke, and I ventured to our first class at Northeastern University. We found our way to West Village F, descended the stairs into the lecture hall, and pulled out our notebooks. I felt a deep nostalgia for that “first day of school” energy. The thing is, we’re not actually matriculated in a program at Northeastern.

The Choice: Election 2016

Each semester, Northeastern University hosts the Myra Kraft Open Classroom Series. It’s free and open to the public, and was established in memory of Myra Kraft. The course this semester is titled “The Choice: Election 2016.” It’s held on Wednesday evenings from 6:00PM-8:00PM in West Village F, Room 20. It started last Wednesday, September 7, and runs through December 7. Even if you missed the first class, you can still come!

The lead faculty is really what sold me on the class. Once I heard it, I thought, “YES! This is exactly how I want to spend my Wednesday evenings.” Here it is:

  • The Honorable Michael Dukakis, distinguished professor of Political Science at Northeastern University, former Governor of Massachusetts, 1988 Democratic nominee for President of the United States, and Brookline resident (For more info about Governor Dukakis, check out my recent post about the health policy forum in Brookline)
  • Christopher Bosso, professor of public policy and director of the Master of Public Policy at Northeastern University

Each week, there’s a panel of professors speaking on a different topic. The first hour of the first class was lecture. The second hour had a Q&A format.

What are the Choices?

As Professor Bosso explained last week,  the class is meant to be an exploration of the upcoming election. He introduced the course with a few guiding questions:

  • Where are we?
  • How did we get here?
  • What are the choices?
  • How do we look at the choices?

Clearly, this election season has been….different. Personally, I spend a lot of time thinking what it all means and what my role is in promoting a healthy democracy. The more I learn, the more questions I have. I hope this class will provide an academic framework to think productively, rather than emotionally, about the political reality today. Through this class, we’ll get to hear from experts in the field, and we’ll all unpack it together.

Up until November 8th, the class will focus on the election, candidates, and issues. After November 8th, we’ll study President Obama’s legacy.

Paths to the Nomination

Each week, there will be a panel of experts. Last Wednesday, we heard from Dr. Rachael Cobb, Associate Professor and Chair of the Suffolk University Department of Government, Dr. William Mayer, Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University, and Governor Dukakis.

First, Dr. Cobb taught us about the Democratic Party’s nomination process and how Hillary Clinton was nominated. Next, Dr. Mayer spoke about the Republican Party’s nomination process and how Donald Trump was nominated. Lastly, Governor Dukakis offered some reflections and observations about the nomination processes and why he thinks Americans overall are unhappy.

Among other topics, we learned about: the history of primaries in the U.S., the value of endorsements, the “invisible primary” (prior to the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary), the history of business people in politics, the consequences of unpopular party leadership, celebrities in politics, bias in press coverage, and candidate field size. Professor Cobb showed us some endorsement data from fivethirtyeight.com and Professor Mayer passed around a handout about, “Who Voted for Whom in the 2016 Republican Primaries.”

The Q&A session was interesting, too. Northeastern students and members of the broader public posed very insightful questions about third party candidates, political rhetoric, and unsuccessful candidates. It’s uplifting to witness other people, particularly young students, caring so much about the political process.

The Semester Ahead

As I’m writing this, I’m getting excited for class #2 tonight: The Economy, Jobs, and Opportunity. I wonder if political scientists are thinking differently about the economy than they were when I was in college a couple years ago. Next week will be about globalization and the age of migration. For a complete schedule and to read more about the topics and professors, check out this page.

I know that not all of my wonderful readers live in Brookline or Boston and can attend this lecture series. But, other colleges have classes that are open to the public as well. Visit your closest university’s course listing or calendar. There may be open lectures about the election. Moreover, there are a plethora of online free courses, through platforms like EdX. For one, Harvard has some free online classes about the election, which you can find here. If you find any good classes near you, let me know so I can share them with other readers.

This class seems very promising. I may be out of college, but I still get to spend my Wednesday evenings in class and my Saturdays watching football. Not too bad!

Running Towards the Emergency

Simply Civics Medical Reserve Corps

“It’s all about being prepared when your day doesn’t go as planned.”

A few weeks ago, I sat with Cheryl, the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the Brookline Health Department. Cheryl runs the Brookline unit of the Medical Reserve Corps.

The MRC, according to their website, is a “community-based, civilian, volunteer program that helps build the public health infrastructure of communities nationwide.” There are 989 community-based units nationwide.

One of my friends in the League of Women Voters of Brookline had recommended I contact Cheryl to hear about the MRC, and I’m really glad I did. The MRC is a phenomenal community service opportunity for anyone, regardless of whether or not you have a medical license. I’m excited to share more info about it with you, and I highly recommend you consider volunteering for it.

MRC 101

This is how it works. You sign up as a volunteer, participate in training, and get added to a database of volunteers. At certain times, you would be contacted with a volunteer request. It’s a low-level commitment and volunteering in any given circumstance is up to you and your availability.

The types of situations vary. Volunteers respond to apartment fires, hail and ice storms, blizzards, and other natural disasters. They have tents at the Boston Marathon and provide public health education and outreach throughout the year. This fall, the MRC has 3 flu clinics planned.

As I was sitting there, I thought: wow, this would be so great, IF I were a medical professional. I can’t administer flu vaccines! I wouldn’t feel the least bit comfortable handling any medical equipment.

Helpers

But have no fear. Cheryl said that there’s work for everyone to do. Actually, there are always logistical tasks in emergency response. From what I’ve heard, the MRC is great at matching up volunteer’s qualifications and strengths with their roles in the Corps. For example, if a hailstorm were to shatter windows in an apartment building, MRC volunteers would help direct tenants to temporary shelter or the Red Cross. As the coordinator, Cheryl gets to know volunteers’ strengths and how each volunteer can best help.

In emergency situations, there tend to be “helpers,” or people who run towards the emergency. They’re spontaneous volunteers. Even with the best intentions, helpers can cause confusion. That’s what makes the MRC so important. It brings together helpers and gives them the pathway and training to serve in terms of crisis.

Training

The training sessions are fascinating. There’s typically one per month from September through May. Just to give you a small glimpse of the full scope of sessions you could attend, here are some previous topics:

  • Building Emotional Resilience
  • CPR/First Aid
  • Building Relationships for Effective Communication
  • Reducing the Fatal Overdose: Community Policing and Public Health
  • Emergency Preparedness for Parents of Children with Disabilities and Special Healthcare Needs
  • 2015 Nepal Earthquake: An on the Ground Perspective in Nepal

And they’re all FREE!

CERT

Often, the MRC collaborates with the Brookline Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). CERT programs are part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Similar to the MRC, CERT volunteers provide a crucial service to the community. They give “critical support to first responders, provide immediate assistance to victims, and organize spontaneous volunteers at a disaster site.” In Brookline, the MRC and CERT coordinators work closely together to optimize their services.

To see whether there’s a CERT program in your area, check out this link.

Buddy System

The MRC also serves the community in another capacity: through the Emergency Preparedness (EP) Buddies Program.

Tragically, in 1995, about 700 people died in Chicago during a heat wave. Many of those who passed away were elders living alone in social isolation. Without anyone checking in on them, they fell victim to heat-related health issues.

Since then, communities like Brookline have developed programs to look out for the safety and preparedness of elders. Through the EP Buddies Program, the MRC and CERT assess a Brookline elders’ individual level of preparedness, and match him or her up with a preparedness buddy.

As a preparedness buddy, a volunteer will identify his or her elder buddy’s needs, set up communication plans, and prepare supplies for potential evacuations. Often, buddies will prepare a bag with essential materials–medications, toiletries, clothing, etc–and leave it at the elder’s front door. That way, Heaven forbid, there’s an emergency, the elder will be ready to just grab the bag and head out as quickly as possible to get to a safe location.

Interested in becoming a buddy? Here’s the brochure. To become one, you first will sign up for the MRC and complete the training. As I previously mentioned, the trainings are fascinating.

National Preparedness Month

Moreover, signing up for the MRC couldn’t be any simpler. Seriously. Complete the online application and if you have any questions, email them at mrc@brooklinema.gov.

September is National Preparedness Month so don’t wait! This is a fantastic time of year to get started. In fact, there’s an information session for the Brookline MRC and CERT coming up. Here are the details, so you can add it to your calendar right now:

Date: Thursday, September 15th
Time: 6:15PM-7:30PM
Location: Community Room of the Public Safety Building, 350 Washington Street, Brookline, MA

By the way, there will also be light refreshments! Check out the Facebook page to RSVP for the session and learn more.

Resolutions

September often feels like the start to a new year. Friends are moving to new apartments, students are starting a new year of school, and we’re inching towards the beautiful, delightfully colorful season of fall.

Consider making a September Resolution to provide a critical service to your community, and sign up to volunteer for the MRC or CERT. They’re not just in Brookline — they’re nationwide.

And hey, if you’re moving into a new community and want to get to know your new surroundings, this is an especially great opportunity for you to get involved. Add it to your moving list and make it happen!

One last time, here’s the page where you can search for the MRC unit closest to you.

It never hurts to be prepared.

Simply Civics Ballot

What You Might Not Know About Ballots

I was eating dinner with my parents and one of my sisters, Alley, a couple weeks ago. Not surprisingly, our conversation shifted to the upcoming election.

My mom asked me about what determines ballot order. I didn’t have a clue.

Are candidates listed alphabetically, by candidate name or party? Is it random? What impact, if any, does the ballot order have on the election outcome?

Embrace your Individuality

As it turns out, it actually varies a lot state by state. In my Political Science classes at Boston College, I learned that in our system of federalism, oftentimes we see a plurality of policies at the state level. States get creative in how they approach various policy issues, such as school systems, tax structures, etc. On Election Day, too, states like to show off their own individuality.

Since the federal government doesn’t dictate how states organize election ballots, we see a plurality of ballot laws across the country. The University of Virginia Center for Politics released a super handy list in 2009. It’s fascinating to see the states’ different approaches to handling ballot order.

Lotteries & Incumbent Advantage

A lot of states seem to place value on the outcomes of previous elections. In Massachusetts, the incumbent is listed first, followed by the other candidates in alphabetical order by last name. Some states, like Connecticut, base the order on previous election results. For example, if the Democrats won the previous election, their candidate will appear first. Interesting, right? So in both Massachusetts and Connecticut, whichever party had the most success in the previous election will appear first.  The underdog is indeed the underdog.

Some states take a similar approach, with their own variations. For example, in Wisconsin, the party that won the most votes in the previous gubernatorial election will be listed first. Whereas, in West Virginia, the party that won the most votes in the last presidential election will be listed first.

In Maryland, the party with the most registered voters is listed first.

Some states leave it up to the official printing the ballots (Illinois) or the State Election Commission (South Carolina) to decide.

Still other states, like Virginia and Washington, have lotteries to determine party order. This sounds both exciting and stressful.

Unclear Bias

Thanks to Political Science academics, there are a ton of studies out there about ballot order.

As it turns out, the candidates listed first may have an advantage. Surprise, surprise! Larry Sabato, the Director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, calls this phenomenon the “first-listing bias.” Voters who are still on the fence might pick the candidate listed first. However, he says the bias produces fewer additional votes for offices at the top of the ballot, such as president or governor, than towards the bottom. The more highly visible the office, the less likely the order of the candidates matters. For more of Larry Sabato’s insights, check out his article, Who’s on First.

Things Aren’t Random

Academics have brainstormed solutions to this dilemma, too. In First Among Equals, Yuval Salant, assistant professor of managerial economics and decision sciences at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School and Marc Meredith, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania propose one solution. If we could somehow randomize ballots, we might be able to improve the fairness of elections. For example, on Election Day, I might see one candidate listed first, and you might see the other candidate listed first. That could be cool….but extremely costly. Towns, cities, and states already spend a ton on each election, without randomizing ballots. Would the benefits outweigh the costs? It seems like for now, officials have decided it doesn’t.

When The Ballot’s In Your Hands

So, the jury is still out on ballot order. There is some evidence to suggest that ballot order matters. Each state has used its own approach to remedy the issue, but no state is perfect.

As always, the best solution is voter education. Make sure you do some research on the candidates before you get to the polls. That way, you’ll vote for the candidate you most identify with, regardless of where they appear on the ballot.

Women & Men in the Arena

League of Women Voters - Simply Civics

When I have a big decision to make or when I’m in need of a motivation, I look to history for perspective. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my role should be in the upcoming election. For example, should I canvass for a candidate, make phone calls, or stress a lot about the outcome?

This time, I thought back to one of my favorite political speeches in American history. In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt made a speech in Paris, called “Citizen in a Republic.” This particular excerpt is often referred to as the “Man in the Arena” speech:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Each time I read it, my heart races. It conjures up images of Olympians, striving valiantly to represent their nations and reach for the gold. Especially relevant, I’m thinking of Katie Ledecky, shattering her own world record yesterday.

Just as the Olympians can compete, each of us can jump into the arena.

Personally, I found my worthy cause for this election: voter engagement. Today, I’m going to share a little bit about a phenomenal organization I stumbled upon: the League of Women Voters of Brookline.

League of Women Voters

To begin, the League of Women Voters is a national organization that strives to protect, educate, and engage voters in the United States. The League doesn’t endorse candidates; rather, it promotes education. Aside from voting, the umbrella organization has several key priorities, including campaign finance reform, environmental protection, immigration reform, and gun safety.

Closer to home, we have a Massachusetts chapter, and even more locally, a Brookline chapter. I am now officially a member of the LWV of Brookline!

Already, I’m finding it remarkably fulfilling. At its core, the League is an enthusiastic and supportive group of women and men collaborating for a valiant, common cause. Joining is easy. Just follow this link and fill out the form. Men can join, too.

As a member, I’ve learned a lot about the generations of women before me who have fought for political equality. In particular, it’s really humbling to consider the advancements America has made in voting rights. However, we are still far from perfection, especially when you think about states still attempting to restrict access to the ballot through so-called “voter identification” laws.

Brookline Primary Simply Civics

Voting Checklist

Because I’m a member of the League, I’ve spent some time researching election processes. So that you don’t have to, I’m sharing the highlights with you.

Now that we’re less than 100 days away from the general election (November 8th), I’m debuting the official Simply Civics Voting Checklist:

  • First, mark your calendar. Access your iCal, Google Calendar, or desk calendar. Add one event to Thursday, September 8th (for the Brookline primary) and one event to Tuesday, November 8th. Decide now which time you’ll go to the poll to vote. You can always move it to another time if your schedule shifts. Call the events “Civic Duty” or anything that will get you excited to vote. Brookline residents, I want to draw your attention to the fact that the primary is on Thursday, September 8th. It isn’t on a Tuesday this year, so make sure you add it to your calendar.
  • Confirm the poll times. The polls are open in Brookline on Election Day from 7:00AM to 8:00PM. Don’t be like Jerry on Parks and Recreation, forgetting to check the time and realizing after a full day of campaigning for Leslie Knope that the polls are closed and he hasn’t voted! Learn from his mistake.
  • Find a buddy. Ask a friend or family member to go to the polls with you. Voting itself is an individual activity, but getting there doesn’t have to be! Make sure your buddy reviews this checklist too so you are both prepared to vote.
  • Check your voter status. Here’s the link for Massachusetts. You don’t want to show up the day of and find out you’re not in the book. I can’t stress this enough. I was heart-broken last year to overhear someone at the polls who wanted to vote for the first time and learned she wasn’t registered.
  • If applicable, register to vote. Here’s the link for Massachusetts. The last date to register for the September 8th primary in Massachusetts is Friday, August 19th. The last day to register for the November 8th general election in Massachusetts is Wednesday, October 19th. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has a handy tool to access information about each state’s elections.
  • Confirm your voting location. WhereDoIVoteMA.com makes it easy.
  • If applicable, request an absentee ballot. Check out the Brookline process or the Boston process. Make sure you plan ahead and request it in time.
  • Next, familiarize yourself with the ballot. For the Massachusetts primary, you’ll receive the ballot for whichever party you ask for, because we have an open primary system. Here are the primary candidates for the Thursday, September 8th primary. I would share a link for the November 8th ballot information, only that hasn’t been decided yet! That’s what the primary is for. In additional to candidates for president, there will also be ballot questions and candidates for state-wide office.
  • Consider working at the polls. I signed up and you can, too! Contact your local clerk’s office if you’re interested. Here is the contact information for the Brookline Clerk’s office. There are four ways to apply to be a worker at the polls in Boston. Some towns and cities even pay you a stipend.
  • Between now and the election, research the candidates and (if applicable) the ballot questions. To jump-start your research, here are some pre-election activities I’ve found helpful (and fun!):
    • Start off each morning reading the news
    • Listen to the NPR Politics podcast while you’re cooking, commuting, or cleaning
    • Visit candidates’ websites for their platforms
    • Follow a variety of news sources on Twitter
    • Engage friends and family members in informed political conversations
  • If you have any questions about the election process, seek out the answers as soon as you can. Do you need a form of ID? Can you vote early? The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts website answers many questions.
  • On Election Day Eve, get excited. You get to vote tomorrow! Review the ballot and make up your mind so that you walk in tomorrow confidently.
  • Vote on November 8th! Your vote counts. If you have children, bring them to the polls with you. As a kid, I loved going to the polls with my mom. It goes a long way in instilling civic values. Thanks, Mom!
  • Lastly, wear your “I Voted!” sticker to remind others to vote.

Voting is Not a Spectator Sport

Generally speaking, follow the checklist and you’ll be ready to go. And, to get involved in voter engagement, check out the League of Women Voters website. Moreover, please reach out to me if you have any questions about the League or want to participate in our work.

Ultimately, if you’re going to take one thing away from this post, let it be this: if you can vote, you should.

In essence, unless you’re one of the lucky ones to qualify, Olympic Swimming is a spectator sport. Voting is not.

So, as you pick up your ballot this September and November, take a second and thank the many people who have fought in the arena to make your vote possible.