The following letter was sent yesterday to Fair Vote Lowell supporters. It is posted here with the permission of Victoria Fahlberg:
Dear Supporters of Fair Vote Lowell,
As you likely know by now, Choice Voting did not pass by a margin of 43% to 57%, or 5174 yes votes and 6841 no votes. We do not know the results yet in terms of precincts other than hearing that the Downtown precincts had more than a 100% increase in turnout and the traditionally strong precincts had about the same voter turnout. We don’t know if the new voters voted for Choice Voting (I’m betting they did), and in the upcoming days we will be analyzing the data to determine where our votes came from.
I have been thinking a lot about what the results mean, but before I get to that, I want to express my deep and sincere gratitude to every person who worked on this campaign. Unlike most campaigns, this campaign had two parts that required enormous work from volunteers. First, was the signature gathering that often took place in the rain or intense heat. More than 100 different people helped us gather an enormous number of signatures. It was that turnout of volunteers that gave Fair Vote Lowell the ability to press forward despite the odds against us.
Once we were finished with the signature gathering, we entered a whole new phase, that of the campaign itself. This phase also required intense labor on the behalf of volunteers, from phonebanking to canvassing, it was amazing how, once again, hundreds of people in Lowell, often people who had not participated in the signature gathering phase, stepped up to move the campaign forward.
There really are not words to describe the gratitude and thanks that all of you deserve who participated in any aspect of the Fair Vote Lowell Campaign. It was a wonderful experience to see the hope and energy of such a large and diverse group of people, who were willing to give their time to promoting justice and fairness. Thank you, thank you.
While a loss feels pretty terrible, as I reflect upon the results, I can’t feel entirely discouraged. We had a huge uphill battle from the beginning—here are some of the challenges we faced:
- The bar for gathering signatures for a local initiative is set at a minimum of 8% of all registered voters. For comparison, a statewide initiative only requires signatures of 3% of voters who voted in the last statewide (gubernatorial election). For us, that meant 4188 certified signatures to get choice voting on the ballot. In Lowell, for a statewide measure it would have only been 641 certified signatures (our volunteers did more than that in a single weekend!)
- Winning in a statewide initiative requires only a simple majority, as long as that majority includes at least a third of voters who turned out in the last gubernatorial election, whereas the bar for us included a super majority turnout that has not been seen in a local election in decades.
- The Lowell Sun told their readers to vote No on Choice Voting. While some in Lowell debate the efficacy of our local newspaper, it should be obvious after looking at the overall results of the election thatThe Sun still holds a great deal of power among voters.
- The local radio station was so biased against us that we felt that we could not utilize them as a source for advertising and be treated fairly. They don’t have a large audience, so this was not a major impact, but it probably did impact a few of their listeners to vote against us.
- It was our understanding that on the ballot, the referendum would be called Question 1. The referendum had no title at all and the words Question 1 did not appear at all. During the day, we received a number of calls from people we had phonebanked that they had not seen Question 1 on the ballot. While this would not have impacted the final result, it did confuse some people who went to the polls to vote YES on Question 1 and most likely contributed to the almost 1,700 voters who did not even vote on the question.
- Few people in Lowell had ever heard of Choice Voting before we began signature gathering in June. We finally got the required signatures on August 27th, which only left us two months to educate the public on an issue that was completely new to them in so many ways—that Lowell’s current system is the least fair system for local multi-seat elections, that ranking candidates provides a more fair system, explaining the complicated (though necessary) vote tabulation, etc.
- When we started this adventure, we had the promise of funds to see us through to the end, but in June that funding fell through. As a result, we were often a day late and a dollar short, so to speak. In the last few weeks of the campaign, we did see some significant donations that will help offset the cost to ONE Lowell. However, if the promised funding had been available in the Spring, I believe that we could have done more.
So with all of these challenges taken into consideration, everyone at Fair Vote Lowell actually achieved a major accomplishment—nearly 5200 people in Lowell voted for Choice Voting! The more I think about the challenges we faced, the more amazing it becomes to me that so many people voted YES for Choice Voting. How we will best use this incredible accomplishment moving forward, I don’t know. The accomplishment is not that of any one person—it belongs to us all. What I do know is that moving forward, ONE Lowell needs to hear from you, who rose to a challenge, and made a huge impact on your city.
More than anything, I want you to know that even though we lost the vote, we made our voices heard and we are more united than ever. Fairness and justice often come slowly. But it will come. Thank you, Victoria