Town Election: A Big ‘No’ On Override; School Committee Incumbents Swamped By Populist Pair

Photo: Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman announcing Town Election results.

In the biggest – and far reaching – decision of the 2021 Belmont Town Election, voters defeated a Proposition 2 1/2 override by approximately 1,000 votes, 4,539 to 3,526; a repudiation of the three year $6.4 million fiscal package targeted to fill the growing structural deficit that has been haunting the town’s finances for more than a decade.

Tuesday’s night results – read from the Town Hall steps by Town Clerk Ellen Cushman at 9:35 p.m., Tuesday, April 6 – was just one of a number of results suggesting the populous was seeking change in how governance is conducted in the Town of Homes.

Roughly 47 percent of voters cast ballots – a total of 8,271 voting – which is slightly less than the 51 percent (8,607 votes) which participated in 2015, the last time Belmont went to the polls to decide an override.

For unofficial results, head over to the Town Clerk’s webpage and the 2021 election.

“Voters have clearly decided not to go forward with this override now but the problems that we face as a town are not going to go away,” said Nicole Dorn, who chaired the ‘Yes for Bemont’ campaign.

“We are disappointed, but most of all we are concerned about the future of Belmont. As both our elected leaders and the professionals who oversee our budget have indicated: Belmont residents should expect a tough few years ahead,” said Dorn.

In the crowded field for Belmont School Committee, a pair of populists – Meghan Moriarty and Jamal Saeh – handily defeated the two current members, Tara Donner and Evelyn Gomez, and challenger Tim Flood.

Running on a platform that first surfaced on a local Facebook page where parents believe children were not being served by the actions of the Belmont School Department during a world-wide pandemic, education consultant Moriarty (3,838 votes) and pharmaceutical executive Saeh (3,989) struck a nerve with a portion of residents who felt aggrieved by a perceived lack of movement by the district and School Committee in opening schools full-time.

With their defeat Tuesday, the school committee loses its only active teacher in Donner (1,995 votes) and with Gomez (2,355), a champion of advancing racial and cultural diversity in her single year on the committee.

In another surprise, first-time candidate Adrienne Allen defeated incumbent Stephen Fiore, current chair of the Belmont Board of Health, by a margin of 117 votes, 3,067 to 2,950.

Another office holder, the venerable candidate Tomi Olson was defeated by veteran campaigner Anne Mahon by nearly 950 votes for a five-year seat on the Belmont Housing Authority.

And Mark Paolillo will be back on the Select Board for his fourth three year term after winning unopposed.

Town Meeting Results

Some surprises on the Town Meeting front as two long-time members in Precinct 6 – Joel Semuels and Robert Reardon – the chair of the Board of Assessors – lost the 12th seat to first-timer Marie Warner, head of Citizens for a Fiscally Responsible Belmont, who managed the “No” campaign against the override.

Over in Precinct 3, newcomer A. Ayodeji Baptista impressively topped the ballot with 463 votes.

There will be three Town Meeting members who will be joining the approximately 300 member group via write-in ballots from Precinct 7.

Belmont Will Keep Voting Precincts At Elementary Schools Despite Students Return

Photo: Voting will take place at elementary school locations in Belmont

Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman thought she had everything planned to manage the upcoming Town Election on Tuesday, April 6 as well as one can during a pandemic.

Cushman had her volunteers at the ready, enough PPE’s (personal protective equipment) on supply, and eight ballot locations with plenty of space to allow for six feet of personal distance for everyone. Three of those locations – the Winn Brook (Precinct 8), Butler (Precinct 4), and the Burbank (Precinct 7) – are located in the gyms of elementary schools closed due to COVID-19.

That all changed last week when Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan announced the town’s elementary students will be returning back full-time to the classroom one day before the election on Monday, April 5. And due to social distancing requirements and safety concerns on spreading the coronavirus, schools are using every nook and cranny have to turn into learning spaces: storage spaces, libraries, lunchrooms, and those previously empty gyms.

“We recognize that it could be somewhat challenging especially since the children will be returning to school just one day prior,” said Cushman.

Cushman wanted to “make sure that everyone feels comfortable, everyone is safe” working at those precincts. To accomplish those goals, there needed to be some thought on “what constraints and restraints we might be able to put in place to make sure that happens.”

A meeting was held with Cushman, Phelan, school staff, Town Health Director Wes Chen and Town Administrator Patrice Garvin to evaluate the town’s ability to run the election from those locations, with questions like is there any chance to move the precincts to other locations which are large enough to accommodate a very spread out election process.

But, considering all kinds of factors such as our ability to run these elections in other places, do we have sizes of buildings and facilities that are going to be large enough to accommodate a very physically spread out election process which has been done since the previous year. There were also issues of accessibility for voters and having enough parking, all the while “making sure that we could keep all these various populations separated properly,” said Cushman.

At the end of the evaluation, the group decided that it could “accommodate the voting activity in the elections at the three elementary schools in addition to our other five locations,” said Cushman.

“We will work with the principals of each of those schools as well as [the] facilities department to make sure that we make appropriate accommodations in line with any health guidance,” she said.

‘Vote By Mail’ Postcards Mailed To Belmont’s Registered Voters.

Photo: A sample of the ‘Vote By Mail’

Planning to vote in the State Primary Sept. 1 or the Presidential Election Nov. 3

This is certainly a different election season and different behavior will help to keep us all safe and guarantee your ballot gets counted on Election Day.  The Massachusetts Legislature voted new entitlements in the Election Laws that allow all registered voters to vote by mail, with no excuse necessary.

Every registered voter of Belmont who had not already filed an application to receive an Absentee Ballot or Early Voting Ballot by mail for the fall elections was mailed a postcard last week by the Commonwealth.  

Ellen Cushman, Belmont’s Town Clerk, encourages all Belmont voters to consider voting early by mail, instead of going to the polls on Election Day. Every voted ballot received by the deadline will be counted in the official election results.  

The postcard to “Vote by Mail” is pre-printed with the voter’s name and voter ID and is intended to make requesting a Vote by Mail ballot extraordinarily simple. The voter can choose to receive a ballot for the Presidential Election only or the State Primary only, or both.  

Voters wanting to vote in the State Primary must indicate the party ballot for us to send: Democratic, Republican, Green-Rainbow, or Libertarian. If no choice is made, no ballot can be sent. The voter must sign the card to receive a ballot.

How to Get Your Vote by Mail Card to Us

Once you’ve made your selections and signed your card, there are a few ways to get it to the Town Clerk’s office so your ballot can be mailed to you.  

  • The preferred method is to use our Town Clerk drop box located at the base of the stairs to Town Hall at parking lot level. We empty the box frequently and you will be certain of the date we received your application/postcard.  
  • You can drop the postcard at the Post Office or a US Mailbox. The card is already postage-paid and will be delivered to us once processed and sorted by the Post Office. Be aware that this can take several days.

Please consider filing your Vote by Mail postcard now; ballots are mailed out in the order that we receive the requests so the later requests squeeze the time allowed for you to receive and return your ballot to us.  

If You Didn’t Receive a Post Card but Want to Vote by Mail

Registered voters who already have valid requests to receive an absentee ballot or an early voting ballot would not receive the new postcard. Voters can confirm that they have a valid current request by visiting the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Elections site:    http://www.sec.state.ma.us/wheredoivotema/track/trackmyballot.aspx

Application forms to request a Vote by Mail Ballot or an Absentee Ballot are also available on the Town Clerk pages on the Town of Belmont website:   https://www.belmont-ma.gov/town-clerk and select the link on the left of page. These applications, containing the voter’s information and signature, can be emailed to Voting@Belmont-ma.gov  or faxed to 617-993-2601.

In Person Early Voting dates and hours have not yet been established; stay tuned for updated bulletins.

The Town Clerk and the Board of Registrars of Voters Encourages All Belmont Voters to take advantage of Vote By Mail to keep Belmont voters and Belmont election workers safe.  If you have any questions, please email voting@Belmont-ma.gov or call the Town Clerk’s office at 617-993-2603.  All voted ballots received by the Town Clerk by the deadline will be counted.

Register to Vote Now if You Aren’t Already Registered to Vote in Belmont

Voter registration, and change of party deadlines:

  • August 22 to be eligible to vote in the Sept. 1 State Primary
  • October 24 to be eligible to vote in the Nov. 3 Presidential Election

Once you’re registered to vote and remain at the same address, there is no need to register again. 

To register to vote, or change your voting address, party affiliation or name, to find out whether and where you are already registered, or where you vote, visit: www.RegisterToVoteMA.com

What Do Belmont Voters Need To Know To Cast Ballots By Mail

Photo: Absentee ballot

It is now less than a month before Belmont voters head to the polls – or a post office – to cast their ballots in the annual Town Election.

The Select Board voted to postpone the local election from April 7 to Tuesday, June 23 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And due to safety concerns related to the virus, the state has made it easier for residents to vote via the US Postal Service after the Massachusetts legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker have temporarily expanded the acceptable reasons for voting absentee to include any person taking precaution related to Covid-19.

In response, Belmont Town Clerk, Ellen Cushman encourages people who want to vote in the local election to consider doing so by mail. Voting in person will be different with social distancing protocols and other safety measures in place to protect Belmont’s election workers and voters.

Ideally most people who want to vote in the local election will do so by mail to limit exposure. Voters choosing absentee voting must submit a written signed request to receive ballots by mail.

It is easy to sign up for ballots to be mailed to you by using the application form or writing a letter.

  • Requests for absentee ballots must be in writing and signed by the voter.
  • Completed, signed requests may be submitted to the drop box outside of Town Hall (parking lot level), US Mail (Town Clerk, P.O. Box 56, Belmont, MA 02478), fax (617-993-2601), or email (mpiccione@belmont-ma.gov).
  • You may request ballots for all elections remaining in 2020: June 23: Belmont Local Election; Sept. 1: Massachusetts State Primary; Nov. 3: Presidential Election.
  • Apply early. All absentee ballots are counted every election.
  • Town Clerk’s webpage with more details: https://www.belmont-ma.gov/town-clerk/pages/elections-absentee-voting-early-voting
  • Questions? Email to townclerk@belmont-ma.gov or leave a voicemail at 617- 993-2603.

Full Steam Ahead: Town Clerk Moving Forward With Remote Town Meeting

Photo: Virtual Town Meeting

are running full steam ahead to run a remote-access annual Town Meeting on June 16 with only nine articles that must be taken up. 

In her last communication to Town Meeting Members, Town Clerk Ellen Cushman said Belmont and five other towns had put forth a request for Special Legislation to allow representative Town Meeting towns to hold virtual meetings. The legislation has passed the state Senate and has been with the House for more than a week.

“We all sincerely hope for an answer by early next week,” said Cushman.

The current plan, according to Cushman, which is still under development include:

  • We will use two applications at the same time – one for viewing or asking questions and the other exclusively for voting. We will use Zoom as our Video Conference Platform for the viewing and asking questions.We will use our customary TurningPoint electronic voting system for voting, but instead of distributing the “clickers” to everyone, we will be voting using our technology devices, desktop computers, laptops, tablets or smartphones.
  • During the week ahead, each Town Meeting Member will receive an email invitation to create a password for the TurningPoint system that will allow you to vote securely during Town Meeting.
  • Over the next few weeks, we will divide the Town Meeting into experience groups to run classes so everyone is ready for June 16. We will also be running a practice Town Meeting and/or League of Women Voters Warrant Briefing night so we’re all on board before the 16th. We ask you to make participating in these practice and training sessions a priority, making every effort to “attend.” We understand that there are experts among us but we also recognize that there are members for whom technology is a real challenge, their talents lie elsewhere.
  • Training materials and links to training videos will be distributed next week – we urge you to take the class, do the practice, run a fun Zoom session with your family or friends, practice opening two applications at the same time, minimizing applications.  If you don’t know what any of that is, not to worry.
  • Town Meeting materials are being developed and will be distributed approximately three weeks before Town Meeting.  The materials will include video presentations by the Chairs of our key committees, boards and commissions to assist Town Meeting Members to make informed choices. We’ll also be asking Town Meeting Members to send their questions in far in advance of the Town Meeting so that these folks can respond and share the information with all Members.  We do not anticipate reports will be given at Town Meeting, instead we ask Members to watch the videos.
  • The members of the public will be encouraged to watch, either by livestreaming or through our partner Belmont Media.
  • The Moderator has made the decision that the deadline for any amendments will be one week before Town Meeting, instead of the customary three days, to give plenty of time for evaluation and conversation.
  • We are committed that every Town Meeting Member will be able to fully participate and have their vote counted properly, whatever it takes.
  • If you are a person who is experienced and interested in helping to teach other Town Meeting Members about using Zoom or TurningPoint, please send me an email reply. It’s not yet clear whether we will need your assistance but it’s always good to know before the need arises.

Finally, over the last couple of weeks, Town Meeting Members have completed the online survey of technology types and comfort using technology as well as preferred learning styles. And 289 the 292 Town Meeting Members responded!

Here are the very general numbers:

Technology Town Meeting Members Own or Have Access to:

  • 276 have a smartphone
  • 241 have a laptop computer  (many also have other technology)
  • 33  have exclusively a desktop computer
  • 10  have exclusively a tablet

Experience / Comfort with Technology and Zoom Video Conferencing

  • 136 “Zoomers”  ( regularly participate in Zoom and VERY comfortable with technology)
  • 42 “Experts”( participating frequently in Zoom and very comfortable with technology) 
  • 60 “Intermediates” (participate infrequently in Zoom and comfortable with technology)
  • 24 “Beginners” (have watched Zoom but not participated, 13 are comfortable with technology, 11 are not)
  • 27 “Novices”  (have never watched Zoom, but all are comfortable with technology)

Belmont Can Vote By Mail On June 23 Town Election, But You’ll Need To Request It

Photo:

Belmont voters will have the opportunity to vote by mail in the upcoming Town Election on Tuesday, June 23. But you’ll need to request in writing a mail-in ballot from the Town Clerk’s Office in order to cast a ballot.

Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman has issued the hows and whens of voting in all elections in 2020 on Friday, April 17.

HOW TO VOTE IN THE BELMONT ANNUAL TOWN ELECTION 

NOW SCHEDULED FOR JUNE 23

The Belmont Select Board voted to postpone the annual Town Election from April 7 to June 23, due to the COVID-19 State of Emergency. On March 23, Massachusetts passed special legislation to allow all voters to qualify for absentee voting because of health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

In keeping with the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations for social distancing and Governor Charlie Baker’s State of Emergency and Stay at Home order, the Belmont Town Clerk encourages all voters of Belmont to consider voting by mail, either as an Absentee Voter or as an Early Vote by Mail Voter. Every voted absentee ballot received by the close of polls will be counted on Election Day.  

How To Apply 

Absentee Ballots and Early Vote By Mail Ballots can only be mailed to those voters who request them in writing, though every voter is eligible during the pandemic. The written request must include the voter’s signature or that of an immediate family member or person living with the voter. There are two ways to accomplish this,

  • Complete and submit an application. Application forms are available on the Town Clerk pages on the Town of Belmont website: https://www.belmont-ma.gov/town-clerk and select the link on the left of the page.
  • Write a letter that contains the voter’s name, voting address, signature, the mailing address for the ballot and contact information for the voter.

Voters may choose to request Absentee Ballots be mailed to them just for the annual Town Election or for the remainder of 2020. If for all year, the voter must also include which party ballot to send for the Sept. 1, Massachusetts State Primary: Democratic, Green-Rainbow, Libertarian, or Republican. 

Ways to Submit A Request For An Absentee or Early Voting Ballot by Mail

  • Email the signed Absentee Ballot or Early Voting Ballot request to mpiccione@belmont-ma.gov (by a clear scan, pdf, or photo).
  • Fax to 617-993-2601, 
  • Place it in the Town Clerk drop box at Town Hall (located directly outside the doors facing the parking lot) or mail it to Town Clerk, 455 Concord Avenue, Belmont, MA  02478. 

Ballots will be mailed out in the order requests are received and voters are urged to file requests as soon as possible. The legal deadline to file a request for an Absentee or Early Voting by Mail Ballot is Noon, Monday, June 22, but realistically voters should allow plenty of extra time for mail delivery in both directions. Ballots may be returned by mail or placed in the Town Clerk DropBox, as described above.

Absentee Ballots Already Received Are Valid for June 23.

If you’ve already requested and received an Absentee Ballot for the election, bearing the original April 7 date, please vote that ballot and mail it in. New ballots will not be printed for the June 23 date; the special legislation allows the use of ballots that were already printed for the original election date.  

Other Voting and Election Information

For more information about voting or to see the Annual Election Ballot, visit the Belmont Town Clerk’s pages on the Town website at https://www.belmont-ma.gov/town-clerk and select a topic in the green Elections links on the left of the page. Questions should be sent by email to townclerk@belmont-ma.gov   or by phone at 617-993-2603 during the pandemic.

Register to Vote Now

Only Belmont residents who are registered to vote by June 12 will be eligible to vote in this year’s June 23 Annual Town Election. Once you’re registered to vote and remain at the same address, there is no need to register again.

To register to vote, or change your voting address, party affiliation or name, to find out whether and where you are already registered, or where you vote, visit: www.RegisterToVoteMA.com 

Five Days Of Early Voting For Presidential Primary Starts Monday, Feb. 24

Photo: One week of early voting in Belmont.

Belmont voters are now able to cast ballots early for the presidential primary election ahead of Super Tuesday, March 3.

With voter turnout expected to be high due to the large number of candidates seeking to challenge President Trump in the general election in November, Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin permitted five days of early voting.

Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman announced early voting will take place on the following dates and times: 

  • Monday, Feb. 24        8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, Feb. 25        8 a.m. to 4 p.m. 
  • Wednesday, Feb. 26  8 a.m. to 4 p.m. 
  • Thursday, Feb. 27     8 a.m. to 7 p.m. 
  • Friday, Feb. 28          8 a.m. to Noon

Early Voting will only take place at the Belmont Town Hall, 455 Concord Ave. Election Day voting will occur at each of the eight voting precinct locations in town.

Early Voting is available to all voters of the Commonwealth, unlike Absentee Voting that is only available to those voters who will not be in Belmont on Election Day or cannot vote in person on Election Day due to a medical disability or religious conflict.

The Town Clerk’s office always recommends that voters carry  identification when going to the polls or Early Voting in case one is required due to inactive status. 

Questions should be directed to the Town Clerk’s office at 617-993-2600.

They’re Off: Incumbents Dash To Secure Nomination Papers For Town-Wide Offices

Photo: Mike Widmer would be seeking his 13th term as Town Moderator.

The 2020 Belmont Town Election is still 98 days away on April 7, 2020 but it appears this edition will be few if any open seats among the 11 town-wide positions up for grabs when Belmont voters go to the polls.

Incumbents in eight of the 11 possible races have quickly snagged nomination papers from the Town Clerk’s Office in preparation for re-election campaigns.

The current office holders who have taken the first steps for a return to town government are:

  • Town Moderator (1 year): Michael Widmer
  • Town Treasurer (3 years) : Floyd Carman
  • School Committee (Two 3-year terms): Catherine Bowen, Michael Crowley
  • Board of Assessors (3 years): Robert P. Reardon
  • Beard of Health (3 year term): Donna David
  • Board of Library Trustees (Two 3 year terms): Kathleen Keohane, Gail Mann

Of those who have yet to take out papers, the most notable absentee is the Select Board’s Adam Dash, who was first elected in 2017 winning 63 percent of the vote.

But speaking to the Belmontonian in the past week, Dash gave every indication of seeking a second term to the Board, saying he would “decide” on a possible run shortly after the holidays “when people are thinking about the election.”

Only Alexander E. Corbett III of the Cemetery Commission and Donna Brescia, the chair of the Housing Authority, are incumbents who have yet to obtain papers.

It remains to be seen if the lack of “open” seats will deter newcomers from seeking to throw “their hats into the ring.” Incumbents have built-in advantages when they run: name recognition, for many three years of accomplishments, and past supporters they can return to. As Guy Molyneux puts it in The American Prospect, “elections are fundamentally a referendum on the incumbent.”

“Only if [the electorate] decide to ‘fire’ the incumbent do they begin to evaluate whether each of the challengers is an acceptable alternative.”

For those who are determined to run for town-wide office, stop by the Town Clerk’s office at Town Hall to pick up nomination papers; then submit the signed forms to the Clerk’s by the deadline, Feb. 18, 2020, at 5 p.m.  

The Town Clerk’s web pages contain quite a bit of information to help make a decision to seek office at https://www.belmont-ma.gov/town-clerk then select Elections: Running for Elected Office and Town Meeting; feel free to call us at 617-993-2600, or email at townclerk@belmont-ma.gov

Nearly Here: Deadline To Register To Vote In Town Election March 13

Photo: Get registered!

The deadline to register to vote and be qualified to vote in the annual Town Election (this year on Tuesday, April 2) is 8 p.m. March 13.

Eligibility requirements to register to vote in Massachusetts:

  • must currently live in the town or city that your voting in, 
  • At least 18 years old and
  • A citizen of the United States.

Property ownership alone does not qualify one to become a registered voter.

Online Voter Registration: You can register here for residents who have a current Massachusetts Driver’s License or Massachusetts State ID issued by the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Voter Registration Documents are also available at the Town Clerk’s office in Town Hall, 455 Concord Avenue or online at the Town Clerk’s web pages. 

Questions can be directed to townclerk@belmont-ma.gov or 617-993-2600.

Considering Running for Elected Office in Belmont? No Time Like the Present

Photo: It’s getting close to the deadline for nomination papers to be submitted.

Ellen Cushman, Belmont’s Town Clerk, announced this week that nomination papers for Town Offices are available for those running for office.

All candidates must be registered voters of Belmont.

Belmont’s form of government is a representative Town Meeting and we have seven elected boards, commissions and committees. Town Meeting makes all of the decisions about the Town’s budgets, local bylaws and town-wide initiatives. As a representative Town Meeting, only elected Town Meeting Members can debate and vote, unlike the Open Town Meeting some smaller towns use. Annual Town Meeting takes place in the spring, and typically is held for four evenings, (customarily Monday and Wednesday) in early May then early June for another two to four evenings. All sessions start at 7 p.m.

Each voting precinct in Belmont has 36 Town Meeting Members, elected by voters of that precinct at the April Town Election. Twelve Representative Town Meeting Members for each precinct are elected annually for a three year term. In 2019 there are also a few partial-term openings for Town Meeting; vacancies are created by Members moving or resigning. Serving in Town Meeting is a great way to represent your neighbors and neighborhood concerns, get to know other residents and become informed about issues and opportunities ahead of Town.

Stop by the Town Clerk’s office to pick up nomination papers; have your neighbors and friends, who are voters of your precinct, sign your papers and submit the signed forms to the Town Clerk by the deadline, Feb. 12, at 5 p.m. The Town Clerk’s web pages contain quite a bit of information to help make a decision to seek office at www.belmont-ma.gov  select Town Clerk, then select Running for Elected Office and Campaigning or feel free to call us at 617-993-2600, or email at townclerk@belmont-ma.gov

Running for election is simple:

  • To be nominated for Town-wide office – signatures of at least 50 registered voters of the Town are required on the nomination papers. The Town Clerk must certify these signatures so we always suggest obtaining about 20% more just to be safe.
  • To be nominated for Town Meeting – signatures of at least 25 registered voters of your precinct are required on the nomination papers. The Town Clerk must certify these signatures so we always suggest obtaining about 20% more just to be safe.  Some current Town Meeting Members will be asking the voters for re-election but all twelve seats are available in each precinct.

Here’s the list of offices that will be filled by the April 2 annual Town Election as of Jan. 24:

Town Meeting Members for Each of the Eight Precincts: Vote for 12 (three year terms)

Partial-Term Town Meeting  Members:

For Precinct 1: Vote for one, two-year term.

For Precinct 1: Vote for one, one-year term.

For Precinct 5: Vote for one, two-year term.

For Precinct 7: Vote for one, one-year term.

Town-wide Offices Number of Seats Term of Office
Moderator Vote for One 1 year
Board of Selectmen Vote for One 3 years
Town Clerk Vote for One 3 years
Board of Assessors Vote for One 3 years
Board of Cemetery Commissioners Vote for One 3 years
Board of Health Vote for One 3 years
Members of the Housing Authority Vote for One 5 years
Trustees of the Public Library Vote for Two 3 years
Members of the School Committee Vote for One 1 year
Members of the School Committee Vote for Two 3 years