Change Methuen Charter to Mandate Primaries

September 2013

You cannot put a price on democracy. Yet, the City of Methuen has a provision in their charter that cancels their preliminary elections when there are too few candidates to eliminate in a pimary election.

Officials in Methuen say this is to save the nearly $50,000 it will cost to run a primary election.

“Why have a preliminary election and spend thousands of tax dollars when most races for mayor, school committee and city council are uncontested?” Mayor Manzi said back in 2005.

Here’s why!

First, most political insiders and elected officials would rather do away with primaries because they are unpredictable. Especially when a primary is uncontested.

Let’s say that the only person running for a single city council seat in Methuen is an incumbent.

If the preliminary election is cancelled, the incumbent is guaranteed reelection. It is nearly impossible for a write-in candidate to beat someone whose name already appears on the final November ballot.

But, if Methuen were to hold a preliminary election in that uncontested race, members of the public unhappy with that incumbent may recruit a sticker or write-in candidate. That candidate will only need 50-100 write-in votes to have his name appear as a regular candidate on the November ballot.

That means the incumbent has to spend money and campaign for their seat when they were expecting to walk right in with no opponant.

You can see why the political insiders are so eager to cancel local preliminary elections when they can. By cancelling that primary the public is stuck with only one candidate, losing out on the potential for better choices.

In 2005 Methuen officials had enough candidates for a primary (but not many) so they announced that they were going to petition the legislature to cancel their preliminary election anyway … to save money of course.

When the legislature rejected Methuen’s petition, a flood of new candidates came out of the wood work, resulting in almost every Methuen race being contested that year.

Holding primary elections gives political; power directly to the voters when they do not like the choice of candidates who have turned in nomination papers.

That changes the landscape for current office holders who do not like to be challenged.

We believe that it should be up to the people, not the insiders, the incumbents, or a predetermined process that favors office holders.

We also believe that only the Methuen voters can take back control of their election process from the insiders by pressuring their officials to change the charter and have mandatory primary elecitons regarless of the number of candidates seeking office.