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Pandemic Throws Traditional Election Process Into Turmoil

Former Select Board Member Peter Cunningham To Mount Write-In Campaign For Select Board
by Russell Harris
Besides the bewildering disruption to our economic, social and family lives, the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown the time-worn traditional patterns of our political process and calendar into turmoil. After initial shock and surprise, we are gradually regaining our footing and adjusting our political traditions and culture.
     Our full grasp of the dangers of Covid-19 hit just as most candidates for town office had pulled nomination papers and were preparing to gather signatures to become eligible to stand for election. But then, the lockdown and awareness of the dangers of COVID-19 put local political activity into the deep freeze. Some candidates who had pulled papers decided against seeking the face-to-face interactions needed to gather signatures for ballot access and some, who may have considered running for office, pulled back.
     Commenting on the climate Town Clerk Mike Bouchard said, “It's just a strange environment. I think this pandemic environment has thrown everybody off their game. The nomination period started before we really knew about this so the early people got their papers back right away so they weren't affected. But the people who had to deal with the pandemic situation, they just didn't want to follow up because of personal safety.”
     Incumbents Bruce Easom running for Electric Light Commissioner, Anika Nillsson-Ripps for Planning Board, Jason Webber for Board of Health and David Zeiler running for Trustee of the Groton Public Library all failed to return papers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
     To facilitate return of nomination papers, Town Clerk Bouchard said he had offered candidates the option of emailing their nomination papers around for signatures. Nominators could print the papers at home, sign them and then return a PDF to the candidate. Bouchard said he offered to take either the original or an electronic version of the nomination papers provided that people’s signatures were on the form. Eric Fisher, candidate for Groton Electric Light Department, was able to complete successfully his nomination paper using that technique.
     For the first time in many years, there are no contested elections. It is likely that no offices were contested because the pandemic stopped some from taking the plunge. Separately, it is a matter of concern that nobody chose to run for two open seats on the Groton Housing Authority or for an open seat as a Trustee of the Groton Public Library. The town can only hope that the lack of candidates for these two offices is a result of the surprise and disruption of the pandemic and not a long-term trend.
Write-In Campaign Option
     Mr. Bouchard pointed out that a viable option, especially for uncontested races, is running a write-in campaign. Anybody who did not turn in papers can be elected as a write-in candidate. Mr. Bouchard said he had given guidance on write-ins to two potential candidates.
     Anybody planning to run a write-in campaign should be aware that on election day campaign supporters must remain at least 150 feet away from the polling site, Bouchard said. Also, if writing in a candidate, it is crucial to write in your candidate’s name in the appropriate section of the ballot. For example, if writing-in a candidate for the Board of Health, Bouchard said to be sure to write the candidate’s name under the Board of Health section of the ballot, not Select Board.
Cunningham Write-In Campaign For Select Board
     Adding some drama and competition to what had become a staid and lackluster political season, former Select Board member of many years, Peter Cunningham, announced that he is conducting a write-in campaign for one of the two seats on the Select Board. [See letter on page 2 of this issue.]
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