BY AVA BLUM-CARR ’21
The town of South Hadley is in the midst of preparing for the 2018 municipal election on April 10. Low voter turnout has plagued the town for years, but the content of this year’s ballot may succeed in bringing more people to the polls.
In April, residents will vote on contested positions within the Selectboard, School Committee and Electric Light Department Board. There are also three ballot questions, the most significant of which will decide whether recreational marijuana establishments will be allowed in South Hadley following the statewide vote to legalize the drug in 2016.
Last month, South Hadley’s town meeting convened and voted 44-37 to ban all sales of recreational marijuana within the town. The votes of South Hadley’s residents will either approve or overturn this decision.
According to MassLive, voter turnout in South Hadley’s recent local elections has been incredibly low, with the exception of the statewide marijuana referendum in 2016 which prompted a voter turnout of 83 percent. In contrast, the municipal elections of 2016 and 2017 did not see a turnout above 15 percent.
The issue of recreational marijuana has proved divisive in South Hadley. According to MassLive, the votes cast in South Hadley during the 2016 referendum were very evenly split, with approval of legalization winning by a small margin.
“My sense is voter turnout should be higher than last year due to the fact there are a number of contested races and three ballot questions this year,” said Carlene Hamlin, South Hadley town clerk.
With just over 2,250 students, Mount Holyoke represents a significant block of potential voters in South Hadley. Despite the fact that 27 percent of Mount Holyoke’s student body is comprised of international students, most of whom do not hold U.S. citizenship, the number of students eligible to vote is still comparable to the total number of votes cast in last year’s municipal election.
However, the majority of Mount Holyoke students who responded to an informal Facebook poll were unaware of their ability to participate in South Hadley’s local elections. Of the 47 students who responded to the poll, only two reported that they knew they could cast a vote in South Hadley.
One of these students, Lucy Bolognese ’17, hopes to vote in the April election. “I believe that making a difference and instigating change in our country begins at the local level,” said Bolognese. “I want to be an active member of society and get my voice heard.”
Hamlin confirmed that Mount Holyoke students can indeed vote in the town’s municipal elections as long as they are U.S. citizens and are registered to vote. Those who are not registered must do so at least 20 days in advance, which leaves a month-long window for students to register in time to participate in April’s election.
But even if students do want to vote in local elections, some obstacles may stand in the way. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to vote because of the limited transportation to and from the voting booths,” Bolognese said. “[Mount Holyoke] provides transportation for the big elections, like the national and presidential elections, but not for the smaller local elections. I find that a bit frustrating.”