Post election thoughts: How informed is the electorate?

Tuesday, April 1 was election day here in Reading, with seats open for Board of Selectmen and School Committee, as well as a special state election to fill Katherine Clark’s Senate seat. After taking a look at the official results at the town website, I ask myself how informed voters really are.

Approximately 25 percent of Reading’s registered voters turned up to vote at the polls. That really isn’t too bad of a number considering it wasn’t a presidential election. There was a high profile issue of voting for a debt exclusion for the library building project, and more on that in a bit.

More blank ballots were counted for Board of Selectmen than for either of those running. Citizen Blank took the Board of Assessors election handily, with 4,426 ballots compared to 34 for Robert N. Marshall, four for Kara Fratto, and two each for Frank Golden and Vineet Mehta. Blanks took the Library Trustees three-year seat with 3,652 ballots to 2,660 for David Hutchinson and 2,606 for Victoria Yablonsky.

Citizen Blank didn’t win any non-contested races. Alan Foulds, who has run unopposed longer than anyone can remember, won his moderator position without challenge, as did John Brzezenski for the two year Library Trustees seat, Thomas O’Rourke for the Municipal Light Board three-year seat, and Robert Soli for the Municipal Light Board one-year position. School Committee candidates fared better than the blanks. Blanks were also very few and far between on the ballot question asking for bonds for the library renovation project.

What it tells me, is that many voters who turned out Monday were one -issue voters. On the library issue in particular, much ink has been spilled over whether voters had the full scope of the project funding before heading to the polls. There were plenty of opinions in local media and on Facebook sites, much of it emotional and passionate, but how many people had a full understanding of the issues, and how many just voted blindly to “support the library?”

I look at all of the blank ballots and uncontested races, and the struggle to fill seats at Town Meeting, and I wonder at the willful blindness of one-issue voters. How many volunteer to serve on town boards, attend meetings, or even educate themselves through local media?

As an owner of a small business in town, I know how important being engaged in town politics and policy is. Many well-meaning people put forward ideas and proposals with no input of the people they’ll impact. And those who don’t bother to inform themselves can be swayed by passionate arguments, whether they are for increasing the minimum wage, keeping unproductive subsidies, or writing a blank check for a library renovation without understanding the data that informed the proposal.

I would love to see a stronger engagement on behalf of the citizens of this town, so that these discussions can be more fact-based and less emotionally driven. I strongly encourage my fellow Readingites to go to the polls next time, not just as voters but as candidates. Run for Town Meeting, volunteer to serve on boards, and the better your decisions will be for the families, businesses and institutions of Reading.

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