The summer and fall of 2018 were busy times for both our League and our neighboring Leagues. An extraordinary number of open seats were up for grabs in the state legislature, and in addition, Amherst was holding its first municipal election under its new home rule charter.
Because one of the two major parties did not choose to run any legislative candidates in 2018, all of the action for the legislature was in the crowded primary season. Questions were raised about League participation in the resulting one-party events, but in the end the local Leagues (Amherst, Northampton and Franklin County) provided both panelists and moderators for candidate forums arranged by the Hampshire Gazette and including local media as additional co-sponsors:
- LWVA cosponsored a candidate forum on July 18 that featured Democratic candidates for the Third Hampshire House District, Mindy Domb and Eric Nakajima. Our League took care of room set-up and provided question screeners and one panelist (responsible for presenting questions from the floor.) Becky Shannon from the Northampton Area League moderated.
- LWVA provided a moderator for a similar Second Hampshire House District candidate forum in South Hadley on July 26, where the Northampton League was the main co-sponsor and the Franklin County League provided a panelist.
Our League also provided a moderator for a pre-primary candidate forum for the candidates for Berkshire County District Attorney sponsored by the Williamstown League.
But the main events for LWVA were the preliminary and final elections for the new Amherst Town Council, whose members will serve for three years. The two elections were timed to coincide with the state primary and general elections, respectively. We arranged forums for both elections as well as publishing an election guide for each election. The election guide for the preliminary election featured one open-ended question for the 34 candidates for Town Council. The election guide for the November election presented the responses of the 26 finalists to five questions in tabular form.
As for forums:
- For the preliminary election, we held events in each of the five districts, where between four and seven candidates were running to be one of four finalists for two district Council seats. These events combined a "speed candidating" segment and a more formal panel discussion. All were held on the evening of August 21.
- On August 29, we sponsored a forum at the ARMS for the seven candidates vying for six finalist slots for the three at-large positions on the Council.
- For the final election, we held a series of three mini-forums for all 26 finalists for Town Council on October 23. This required a number of innovations, the chief of which was to send the three questions to the candidates in advance, with instructions to prepare enough remarks to be able to say something new if they happene to be one of the last to respond. (Another approach to this problem—addressing each question to only part of the field together with segments during which candidates are permitted to speak on one of the topics they did not receive or on some other topic of their choice—was rejected by the LWVA committee, although it has been used by other MA Leagues including Franklin County.) Panels of 12 district candidates, 6 at-large candidates, and finally 8 district candidates succeeded one another on the stage at ARMS during a marathon three-hour session. Another innovation at this forum, enjoyed by the candidates but not by the moderators, was the use of the Town Meeting electric timer instead of Leaguers with stopwatches and signs.
Thanks to the many members of LWVA who helped to make all this possible, as well as to our neighboring Leagues who provided moderators for our forums.
In November of 2019 there will be municipal elections for the town-wide elected offices in Amherst, and in the future municipal elections will occur only in odd-numbered years.