Local election officials say they’ve come up with a fix for the mishap in last year’s school board vote that allowed village residents to weigh in on a seat dedicated to town-outside-the-village residents.
Joint municipal clerk Susan McNamara-Hill said there will be two different ballots for the Essex portion of the Essex Westford School Board elections this time around: Town-outside-the-village voters will have a ballot showing only their two open seats, while village voters will have a ballot showing only the seat available to the village. Essex Jct. elections, including the trustees, will be on the reverse side.
The changes will address an election hiccup last year caused by Act 46, the landmark school merger law under which the Essex Westford School District was created. Because the 2015 law used language from old statutes that applied to union high schools, the school board’s legal counsel recommended the district ask individual municipalities to warn the vote.
But the town of Essex includes village residents, too, so when incumbent Liz Subin sought re-election for a seat designated for residents in the former Essex Town School District, her name appeared on ballots distributed at both polling places.
Subin was unopposed, so the extra votes she received from village voters did little more than boost her total tally. But theoretically, a village resident could have sought and won election to the school board for a seat designated for town-outside-the-village (TOV) residents.
In response, selectwoman Irene Wrenner gathered hundreds of signatures from TOV residents to draw attention to the problem.
Martha Heath, school board chairwoman, said at the time she would have challenged any election that threw off the proportional representation prescribed by the district’s articles of agreement. Still, she said the school board should have reviewed the ballots and stressed it won’t happen again.
When the issue was raised last year, Rep. Dylan Giambatista said he was working with the Senate Education Committee to patch up the loophole with a temporary bill that allows the AOE and legislature to perform a comprehensive review and cleanup some sections of Act 46, including the one related to warning votes.
But a number of bills concerning the final stages of Act 46, and whether the landmark education law should be delayed a year, have taken up much of the education committees’ bandwidth.
“Because of that, it was decided in partnership with the Agency of Education that we take up this matter next year,” Giambatista said, adding conversations with local election officials show they’ve taken steps to ensure the process goes smoothly this time around.