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.