By Elaine Sopchak
Published April 27th 2006 in The Essex Reporter
I read the recent article in The Essex Reporter, and I respectfully urge the members of the Merger Task Force to give serious consideration to the concept.
I have enjoyed being an active member of Village government (I am a Brownell Library Trustee and a member of the Planning Commission) for the past few years. I hope, in the future, to continue my involvement and perhaps even further it by seeking higher office. I am concerned, however, that under the current winner-take-all method of voting, that I would be unable to earn enough votes to win any position. I know very few people in the Town, and incumbents generally win. Even someone as well known and liked as Larry Yandow was unable to earn a seat on the Town Select Board over an incumbent. If Mr. Yandow is unable to win a seat, I see very little encouragement for someone like me to run. The future of our Village, merged or not, depends on encouraging more, and younger, residents to take interest and take part in its governance. I think proportional representation would encourage more people to step up.
In addition, it seems to me that if the future governmental body of a merged Village and Town is made up primarily of Town residents, that would do little to ease the tension between these two groups. It would continue to discourage a lot of people from voting. While a lot of people in our Village are engaged in the political goings-on, many are not, and those who aren't are not interested in the finer points of voting. They just want who they want in office, and if they don't get that, after awhile they will give up altogether. The last thing any town needs is disinterested citizens. Having an equal chance of winning will make so many more people interested in voting that I think our voter turnout will increase significantly, which is what we all want.
Finally, I am sure there is concern on the part of some task force members that the voters will be confused by a change in the voting process, and that some may even be angered by such a change. While I agree that change is difficult, in some cases it is necessary. The City of Burlington recently demonstrated, by their successful use of instant run-off voting, that it can be done, and done well. Please don't underestimate the willingness of the citizens of the Town and the Village to undergo changes that will in the end benefit all of us.
This is an ideal opportunity for the merger task force to make significant, positive change occur, and I truly hope that you will set aside your objections to proportional representation and give it some heavy consideration. At the very least, if voting procedures will not be changed as part of a Town and Village merger, please consider making the change to proportional representation after the merger is accomplished. It can only benefit all of us. Thank you very much for your consideration.