Sarah McKee: Voter veto petition

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Thursday, January 13, 2022

May I please correct a misstatement in the Bulletin’s article, “Anti-garage petition falls short” (Jan. 7). A voter veto petition protesting an Amherst Town Council measure must actually have registered voters’ signatures to equal “5% of [the number of] registered voters as of the most recent Town election….” Amherst Town Charter, Section 8.4 (a). The Bulletin inaccurately said that the petition needed “5% of the voters who participated in the Nov. 2 town election...”

The hurdle for voter veto petitions is thus substantially more challenging than the Bulletin indicates.

Another challenge is that petition supporters have only “14 days following the date on which the Town Council has voted finally to approve any measure” to obtain the necessary signatures. Those 14 days include all legal holidays. Here we had both Christmas and New Year’s.

It is also irrelevant that those 14 days fell during intersession for UMass and the colleges. That is, college students registered to vote in Amherst count toward the number of signatures that a voter veto petition requires. Yet, they are usually unavailable to sign any petition circulated when UMass and the colleges are out.

The town can readily eliminate another challenge by allowing the full 14 days to gather signatures that the charter provides. Here, Town Council voted the protested zoning change late on the evening of Monday, Dec. 20. Yet, on Monday, Jan. 3, the town clerk accepted petition signatures only up to the town’s regular close of business. This allowed but 13 days and some 18 hours to gather signatures.

For future voter veto petitions, I strongly suggest that the Town Clerk’s office remain open as necessary to comply with the charter’s 14-day deadline.

Sarah McKee