Two complex ballots for voters on November 4
Great Barrington — Gore Vidal said decadent societies produce decadent language, and “…words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.”
Hopefully, we will prove Vidal wrong on November 4. But it won’t be easy. Great Barrington Town Clerk Marie Ryan wants us to be ready for five state ballot questions, some of them long and loaded with five-dollar words, as Mark Twain called them. Not to mention a separate ballot for the Monument Mountain Regional High School renovation project — its own language not for the faint-hearted. That ballot contains two questions, both of which must pass for the high school renovation to proceed.
The renovation ballot language is not the Berkshire Hills Regional School District’s or the School Committee’s fault; it was driven by the state, which, if the renovation item passes, will give the district $23.2 million of the total project amount of $51.2 million. Stockbridge and West Stockbridge are part of the Regional School District, and must also vote to approve both questions, including a Proposition 2 ½ override.
The renovation project will be bonded out for 25 years, projected as a yearly debt of $1,149,220 at a 3.75 percent interest rate on the $28 million principal for the three towns in the district. Great Barrington’s slice of that principal is $19.4 million.
Question 1 on the renovation ballot asks whether Great Barrington should approve the borrowing for the project, but says the vote is “subject and contingent upon an affirmative vote” on question two, the Proposition 2 ½ override. A “yes” vote on question two will exempt the town from its 2.5 percent cap on its total property tax levy, essentially preventing this debt from affecting the town budget. So while the town’s levy is now under the maximum allowable levy, the override will help protect the town in the event of unforeseen expenses. That is Great Barrington’s policy for major projects.
Yet like a page out of Richard Hofstadter’s 1964 classic, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” a bizarre rumor was circulated in town this week that the school district will go ahead with the renovation even if the Proposition 2 ½ override fails. Berkshire Hills School Committee Chair and Selectboard member Stephen Bannon said it is his understanding that “unless both [questions] pass,” the renovation will not go forward. He said it was the reason why the state’s school building authority required the ballot to say the renovation was dependent on the override.
Never mind that school and town officials have publicly stated that if the Proposition 2 ½ override fails, question one is rendered meaningless, and the renovation will not happen. Even the ballot question says it — and the results are binding.
Ryan said the state ballot is “very long and two-sided” and will take an “average of three to five minutes” to complete. The front contains the general election candidates, as well as candidates for the Berkshire Hills Regional School District School Committee, plus two questions; the back contains three questions. The questions include:
–Question 1: Eliminating Gas Tax Indexing. Do voters want to stop the gas tax from rising with inflation?
–Question 2: Expanding the Beverage Container Deposit Law. Do voters want to see deposits on bottles for other types of liquids like water?
– Question 3: Expanding Prohibitions on Gaming. Do voters want stop casinos or other kinds of gaming businesses from opening in the state?
–Question 4: Earned Sick Time for Employees. Do voters want to allow workers to earn up to 40 hours of sick time a year under certain conditions?
–Question 5: Non-binding: Shall the state representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that would allow the state to regulate and tax marijuana in the same manner as alcohol?
Question 5 was the mystery measure; it was not in the state voters guide nor on the Secretary of State’s website. The Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts is a non-profit that had collected enough signatures to put the public policy question on the ballot. An article in The Daily Chronic [https://tinyurl.com/ksxpg8p] cites a 2010 study by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, who “estimated that the U.S. could save over $13.7 billion by implementing a system of regulated sales and taxation for marijuana.” That study is often used by advocates of regulation and taxation of the drug.
Town Clerk Ryan urges voters to be informed before they get to the Great Barrington Fire Station. “They can bring a cheat sheet,” she said, to help them remember how they want to vote. The more informed ahead of time, added Ryan, the shorter the lines. “It will be quicker for everybody.”
Ryan said voters can view the ballot “specimens” on the Town of Great Barrington website (townofgb.org) under both town news and town clerk department links. She said it would be helpful for voters to know their precinct ahead of time. That information is also accessible on the town’s website, in addition to checking voter registration status.
At the polling place there will be one election worker for each ballot. Voters will get the two ballots at the same time, and both ballots will go into the same machine.
To further complicate matters, school is out November 4, and Ryan said she lost some election workers who need to take care of grandchildren that day.
And what about parking? Ryan sighed. “It’s going to be busy,” she said.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on November 4.
The town will hold a flu clinic at in the fire station meeting room from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.