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Reasons to keep 21 precincts for Town Meeting
The following fact-based viewpoint about proposed precinct changes in Arlington was submitted by Mark Rosenthal, a Precinct 14 resident. It is a revised version of his views from those appearing earlier on social media.
Here are some of the reasons that I believe it would be a bad idea to reduce the number of Town Meeting Precincts from 21 to 16.1.
1. Arlington's Reprecincting Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document makes much of the supposed financial savings that would result from reducing the number of precincts, but the amount of savings would actually be negligible.
I phoned the town cerk to ask the cost of staffing each polling place on Election Day and was told that on that day, each precinct is staffed by six volunteers: four inspectors compensated at $170 for the day, one warden compensated at $225 for the day and one clerk compensated at $200 for the day.
I was also told that the training for each volunteer takes approximately two hours, and is compensated at an hourly rate approximately one-12th of the Election Day compensation. This works out to a cost per precinct of approximately $1,289.16.
Thus, the savings from reducing the number of precincts from 21 to 16 is about $6,445.80 per election.
In a town whose 2022 budget is in excess of $190 million, this amounts to 0.0034 percent of the annual budget, which is the equivalent of a person with an annual salary of $100,000 worrying about saving a mere $3.40! So the amount saved by reducing the number of precincts is negligible.
2. Reducing the number of precincts runs directly counter to the Reprecincting Working Group's claims to be interested in increasing diversity, because it would increase lock-in for incumbents.
New candidates don't have name recognition, so they need to spend money to mail campaign literature, and with 16 larger precincts each candidate would have to spend about one-third more on mailings than in a 21-precinct system. Meanwhile, many incumbents get reelected to Town Meeting just on the strength of their name recognition, without doing mailings.
3. The FAQ argues that having fewer precincts will enable the town to respond more nimbly in adapting procedures in response to changes in election laws. But the only anticipated change I'm aware of is not to election laws, but rather to the boundaries of congressional districts, which will necessitate adjustments to precinct boundaries when the new district boundaries are finally announced.
After this year, this won't happen again for a decade. The precinct boundaries will need to be adjusted so as not to cross congressional districts regardless of whether we have 16 or 21 precincts.
Having fewer precincts doesn't make it any easier to redraw the precinct boundaries. If anything, having more precincts would provide more flexibility in this regard.
4. The FAQ argues that with each polling location hosting two precincts, every precinct will have a more uniform voting experience. This is a red herring.
No voter I know of cares whether or not their polling location hosts one or two precincts.
Sept. 26, 2021: What do you think about plans for precinct changes?
This viewpoint was published Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021.
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