Posted by Myeisha Boyd on August 07, 2017
In 2016, a Charter Commission in Amherst (MA) was approved by a majority with 60% voters in favor. The commission is proposing elections be held with ranked choice voting (RCV). The task of the Charter Commission is to study Amherst government and recommend changes within two years. After a 16 month study, the Charter Commission recommended replacing Town Meeting with a town council, among other recommendations. Charter Commission Chairman Andy Churchill said the proposal would call for 13 town councilors, three at large and two each will become five wards instead of the current 10 precincts. Churchill wrote, “We believe the result is a set of recommendations that reflect the varied interests of our residents.”
The final report from the commission must be submitted by September 29 and voters will decide whether or not to adopt the recommendations of the new charter in the spring election. On March 27, 2018 the people of Amherst will vote on the new recommendations of the charter commission. The key recommendations from this elected commision include: a 13 member town council, a town manager, town election date change, and a voting commission. Amherst for All is a strong supporter of these recommendations and outlined on their website that these recommendations should be supported because it will provide transparency and accountability, participation, and dedication.
FairVote has no position on replacing Amherst’s town meeting, but we are pleased that one of the recommendations of the charter commision was to incorporate a voting commision which will form to identify how Amherst can implement RCV in their city elections and be tasked with putting that recommendation on the ballot
RCV is widely hailed by Amherst democracy advocates because it serves as a model for creating a system that fairly represents the voters. Implementing RCV in Amherst would fit into their agenda for a positive change. In cities where RCV is used, the benefits have been restoring majority choice by allowing voters to rank their preferences, encourages more positive campaigns, and candidates have more of an incentive to engage voters which would essentially increase participation and hold candidates accountable.
Currently, the town is structured with a town meeting and select board, which are elected by Amherst voters. The town manager is responsible for running all the town departments and functions, except for schools, libraries and the hiring of employees. As of now, town meeting representatives meet twelve nights out of the year making decisions on money appropriation, law creation and land use zoning.
If the city votes to adopt RCV, they will be the second city in the state that uses it. Cambridge has used RCV for its elections for city council and school committee for decades. A great benefit of adopting RCV in Amherst is having an election model that fairly represents the spectrum of voters, which is consistent with the ideal of a town meeting where everyone who participates arens their chance to have a voice.