City and state election officials recommended today that the election to replace outgoing City Councilor John Tobin be held on a dates other than the already scheduled general election.
City officials are looking at holding a preliminary election if needed on Oct. 19 and a final election on Nov. 16 to replace John Tobin, who is leaving his District 6 seat to become a vice president at Northeastern. Whoever replaces him will serve out the remainder of his two-year term, which began in January. The general election is Nov. 2 (the primaries are Sept. 14, which is too far away from Nov. 2 under city law). The final decision on a date is up to the City Council; it will vote Aug. 4.
Boston Elections Commissioner Geraldine Cuddyer told councilors today that regulations relating to city and state elections are so different that the city would have to have separate voter check ins, separate ballots, separate ballot scanners and separate absentee ballots. One example: State law lets people vote in a district up to six months after they've moved. City law forbids that, so each person would have to be checked in twice. She added that, especially in District 6, with a high percentage of nursing-home patients who vote absentee, there's a high risk of disenfranchisement, she said.
Some precincts might even have to be moved - or put the city under risk of legal action - because there wouldn't be enough room for people in wheelchairs to navigate with the extra tables required.
"It's a recipe for disaster trying to do it on the same day," Cuddyer said.
Cuddyer said "the likelihood of voter confusion and voter aggravation" would far outweigh any cost savings from holding elections on similar days. Only there might not be any savings, because the city would have to rent 40 extra ballot scanners, "God knows from where" at a cost of about $20,000, she said. The city would also have to bring on roughly 200 additional poll workers and 34 additional police officers to handle the special election on the same day as the statewide election.
She added replacing Tobin will cost at least $180,000 regardless of which days the elections are held.
City Council President Michael Ross, who wanted to hold the Tobin replacement election on Nov. 2, said he may reluctantly agree to hold it on another date because of such issues. But, he added, this shows that state election laws "are arcane and we should be embarrassed by this - this is ludicrous."
Ross added that he would only support a simultaneous election if the state would let the ballot be translated into Chinese as required by city regulations - something that would be needed in 22 of the district's 34 precincts.
City Councilor Maureen Feeney (Dorchester) said simultaneous elections "lends itself to chaos" and favors four elections. "Democracy is challenging. It takes an effort."
At-large Councilor Felix Arroyo, however, was skeptical, saying people could get confused by all the elections and that he needs to see better evidence that a separate election date is really needed. He said he would do everything possible, "even if it cost me my own job, to make sure more people vote."
Feeney retorted that there will be so many offices already on the state ballot that people might simply throw their hands up in confusion and never vote in the city-council election.