I am interested in hearing what our community has to say about Proposition 2, which will be voted on in this election, on May 15th.
“What is Proposition 2?
“Commencing with the annual budget vote and election to be held on May 21, 2013 and all subsequent elections, shall vacancies on the Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District Board of Education not be considered separate and specific offices, but rather elections-at-large and candidates with the highest number of votes shall be elected, and that the nominating petitions are not to describe any specific vacancy for which a candidate is nominated?”
The proposition is asking if you (the voter) approve of the elections being “at-large” starting next year. This means that if there are two vacant seats, and three people are running, then the two candidates with the most votes get elected into office.
As the elections are currently done, a candidate has to choose a specific trustee’s seat to run for. Trustees on our board serve three-year terms. When the three-year term of an incumbent (someone who is currently in office) has come to an end, a candidate may express an interest to run for that trustee’s seat. If the incumbent decides to run for their own seat again (to stay on the board), then the new candidate would be running against the incumbent alone or with another new candidate. The incumbent may decide to not run for his own “seat”(spot on the board). In that case, new candidates interested in that trustee’s seat will either run unopposed for that spot (no one is running against them), or against a new candidate. On rare occasions, an incumbent may choose to run for another incumbent’s seat.
Which way is the best way? That is a tough question. From my findings, I have discovered that there are pros and cons to each method of election.
There are a number of reasons why people run for the Board of Education. Hopefully, their main objective is to help ensure the mission statement of the district. Hopefully, they have a passion for public education, and want to contribute their skills, and or insights to the community by way of the schools. Hopefully, they want to share ideas to help the school district move forward; and that they want to help make decisions using thoughtful, fair, and moral judgement. Expectantly, their purpose is to preserve the best interests of the children, schools, and community as a whole. Those are just a handful of good reasons why someone would run for the Board of Education.
On the “flip-side”, and or in conjunction with that, sometimes people run because they are very unhappy with the trustee who sits in a seat which is up for re-election. They are disappointed in the decisions that trustee has made, the way they vote on particular issues, their performance, the way conduct themselves, what have you, while serving on the board. Whatever the reasons may be, the new candidate feels that they have more to offer the community in one way or another than the present trustee. Sometimes people run for a specific seat because they are not in favor of another particular candidate who is running for a seat. In that case, having to choose a seat to run for is beneficial. A candidate and his or her supporters, along with the voting residents, can oust another candidate or incumbent who they feel is not right for the job of a Board of Education trustee. This can be viewed as a favorable electoral method because if the residents of the community feel that they are not being represented by a particular trustee, and/or the trustee is not acting on behalf of the district’s mission statement, they can specifically target the dismissal of that trustee.
On the other hand, some view “at large” elections as beneficial because a new, potentially great candidate, might be unable to win an election if they have to choose a seat, and they choose the “wrong person” to run against. Thus, the community loses the opportunity of having a great new trustee. There is also the view that at-large elections promote unity within a board, and that they prevent specific candidates from being elected by their special interests in certain areas. I am not sure as to whether or not this way of thinking applies to our district in particular.
Those not in favor of at-large elections have told me that at-large elections can also seemingly prompt more tactics such as “bullet voting” and “vote-splitting”.
Bullet voting is when voters only cast one vote for one of the candidates when they need to vote for two or three (casting a vote for more than one candidate). This can be done intentionally, or can actually happen accidentally when the voter is not aware of the election process they are participating in. For example, the voter is not aware that they are asked to vote for their top two choices, so they only choose one candidate when they vote. Thus, wasting their right to vote for two people, and by default, one candidate gets majority vote, because there essentially is not, in this case, rightful “vote splitting” to elect the top two people. “Vote-splitting” typically occurs when more candidates are on the ballot. If there are more choices, then votes that may have gone to one of two candidates get split between more than three, four, or five candidates. If a trustee is in fear that his seat is in jeopardy, or a candidate feels that their campaign is on shaky ground, then a plan to strategize using one of these tactics may ensure a spot on the board.
As confusing as it may be, I think that a successful election depends on the voters. The community should be educated to make thoughtful choices when they vote. They should be made aware of the process. If they choose to exercise that right, they need to take it seriously. Haphazard “lever-flipping” can be detrimental, and thoughtless voting can leave the residents shaking their heads at a later time.
I have gone back and forth in my own mind on this issue. I have consulted with people I trust, done some research, and thought about how this proposition would affect our community. How does this fit the people of Patchogue-Medford? What would be the best for our schools? I can see both sides of the coin here. I am not sure why this proposition is being presented at this time, so I question it with great thought. I am pretty sure I know how I will vote on May 15th, and I hope that this blog prompts some good discussion on the issue and generates conversation within our community so that all voters cast an educated vote.
What are your views?