Did You Know? Town Caucus

The town of Weston holds an annual Town Caucus to nominate candidates for elected town offices, under Massachusetts law M.G.L. Chapter 53, Sections 117-121. In a normal year, Weston holds its Town Caucus on the first or second Monday in March which we did last year on March 10. The annual Town Meeting is normally (yes, there’s that word again) held sixty days after Town Caucus, usually the first or second week of May, though last year it was pushed to a Saturday in September because…Covid.

I grew up in a small town in Connecticut and will say that I never once attended the Town Caucus there, so I have little with which to compare the Weston version. It is a surprisingly poorly-attended event, and it seems there is a danger just about every other year that there will not be the required quorum of voters. This was not true last year, which seemed to be a particularly exciting year with contested offices of Moderator, Select Board and School Committee.

In case you are one of the ones who don’t show up (no judgement), here’s the process (per our town website):

At the Caucus, prospective candidates for the various town elective offices are nominated to be placed on the ballot for the Annual Town Election, held in May each year. The two candidates for each open position who receive the largest number of votes at the caucus are designated “Caucus Nominees” on the Town Election ballot. Each caucus nominee must receive a minimum of 8 percent of the votes cast that evening.

People give short speeches nominating their friends, sometimes there is a second speech, and if there is a contested position, everyone lines up to use the old voting machine. This is the best part of Caucus, people. Forget electronic ballots and chads, this voting machine has a hand crank, and slowly munches up the ballots. It is rumored that our Town Clerk refers to it as the “Crank and Ding.”

Weston’s state-of-the-art Caucus ballot counter

There is always intrigue at Caucus–surprise nominations, surprise steppings-down, and occasionally someone who self-nominates on the spur of the moment–which happened last year for School Committee. Only the top two Caucus vote-getters’ names are Caucus nominees If you don’t get nominated at Caucus or came in third or fourth place, you have to (in a normal year) take out nomination papers from the Town Clerk’s office and then get signatures from at least 50 registered Weston voters by a set date. And your name will not be printed on the ballot–you will be a write-in candidate.

Now that has all been written, I will tell you that none of the above is going to happen in 2021. The town has requested an emergency motion with the Massachusetts court system to allow Weston to skip an in-person Caucus this year (because of Covid limitations on public gatherings) as well as lower the number of signatures required to get on the ballot from 50 to 10. This hearing will take place today, February 23, 2021 at 12 pm (the link is available on the Town of Weston official page).

So, The 2021 Caucus, or the Caucus that is not Caucus but rather nominations, will be interesting. How many candidates will there be for open or contested seats? More? Fewer? How will we know what their friends think of them when they’re not doing the nomination speeches? What will the voting machine do in its retirement?

Stay tuned.

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