When Gov. Raimondo signed the bill in 2014 that eliminated the “master lever” or straight-ticket voting, one of the drafters’ goals was to motivate voters to do a little homework and learn a little about the candidates before heading to the polls. That’s a good thing, but the results of the 2016 and 2018 elections in South Kingstown shows that fewer people voted for candidates farther down the ballot, running for Town Council and School Committee, then for the marquee races at the top.
In past elections, the vast majority of voters did so in person on Election Day, so the percentage of mail-in ballots was very low. Now there are three options open to voters – early in-person voting beginning on Oct 14, at the polls on Election Day, and by mail-in ballot. Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s decision to send mail-in ballot applications for the Nov 3 General Election to every registered voter has thrown the normal campaign schedule out the window. Where in the past mail-in ballots accounted for less than 10 percent of the total, this year’s count could be four to five times that number.
We bring this up because those of us running for public office this year are finding it harder to get our message out to voters, much harder. Households with reduced incomes and seniors may not be able to afford cable and internet service to their homes or apartments; newspapers have cut back on the number of editions they publish weekly, and readership is down; our libraries are closed. The South County League of Women Voters canceled their biennial candidates’ forum. In its place, the league sent five questions to the candidates. Our answers should be in the local papers this week.
To help fill the information void, two forums on Zoom scheduled for later this month. The first, sponsored by the TASK (Toward an Anti-Racist South Kingstown) Organization, on Sunday, Oct. 18 at 6 p.m., will offer Town Council and School Committee candidates who weren’t in the primary an opportunity to talk about ways of advancing anti-racist attitudes in South Kingstown. It will take place over Zoom in a webinar format where members of the community can log in as “non-participants” and pose questions directly to the candidates.
The second forum on Oct. 20, for Town Council candidates, is sponsored by the South Kingstown chapter of the National Education Association - NEA/SK. This event, which is open to the entire community, will be a chance for us to connect with many of the district’s teachers.
Most of us also have Facebook candidate pages and Twitter accounts where you can find out even more. Many have submitted letters to the Narragansett Times and The Independent. Others have posted articles on the Narragansett-South Kingstown Patch (https://patch.com/rhode-island/narragansett) webpage, and on the SK Spotlight blog site (https://skspotlight.home.blog/) where you can find an in-depth analysis of some of this year’s engaging topics.
In closing, we’re encouraging everyone to learn as much as you can about the 18 people who have tossed their hats into the ring this year. It might mean waiting a week to 10 days before marking your ballots, but ballots mailed by Friday, Oct 24, still have 10 days to reach their destination 30 miles away. Plus, if this year’s five open Town Council seats and four vacancies on the School Committee are filled with the best candidates after all of the votes are counted, it’s worth it.
Dorald Beasley, James Lathrop, David Laudati and Alex Petrucci