April 7th was election day in West Boylston. Only 11.6% of the town’s 4,758 registered voters cast ballots. My guess is that low awareness, low interest, too many uncontested offices and too many other things to do were behind the low turnout. I dream about doing better next year. And I’m still thinking about stone soup.
Imagine residents dissatisfied with town governance, library advocates hungry for support, disillusioned teachers and students bored silly with abstract assignments coming together to nurture our community and one of its most fundamental activities. It could start with staff from our town library, schools and administrative offices meeting before August 2009 to outline an interconnected curriculum designed to dramatically increase voter turnout at next year’s election.
Think about how a close collaboration between educators from the school and library could engage middle and high school students with robust assignments of lasting value to the community:
- Research how municipal governance in towns like West Boylston works and update wikipedia to share the knowledge with the world;
- To help contextualize the 2010 election, work with our Town Clerk and library town historian to analyze past elections and issues;
- To help voters understand the importance of their participation, report on local initiatives and issues throughout the year and publish to an enhanced town website with community features including wikis, blogs, comments, rss & twitter feeds;
- To foster awareness and participation, maintain a daily twitter feed on town meetings and events across organizations;
- Plan and implement a “get out the vote” campaign for West Boylston;
- Participate in the elections by conducting exit polls to assess what brought residents out to vote;
- Hold student elections and analyze the results.
This year’s election was held in West Boylston’s town offices, which are cramped spaces in a local industrial park. Previous elections have been held at one of the churches in the center of town. A better option, I believe, would be to use our beautiful and centrally-located town library as the election center. Before the election it could provide space for volunteers of all ages to coordinate logistics. The election could be held in its large meeting room downstairs and citizen journalists could blog about the election from the meeting room upstairs.
And, later in the Spring, the entire community of residents, town employees and elected officials could celebrate their achievements in West Boylston’s lovely town center.