Why You Should Vote YES on Question 2

Question 2 on the Massachusetts general election ballot is about Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV), so this is primarily for Massachusetts voters. I do believe, however, that RCV is an idea whose time has come. It may be coming to your state or municipality sometime soon, so if you want to know more — read on! I am so unabashedly for it that I helped collect signatures to get it on the ballot.

What RCV Is and How It Works

In most elections you only get to vote for your first choice. (If there are two seats open for, say, school board, you can vote for two candidates.) With RCV you can rank the candidates in order of preference. Think of the times you didn’t vote for your favorite candidate because s/he was a longshot and you didn’t want to “throw your vote away.” With RCV, no votes get thrown away.

When the votes are tallied, if no candidate has a majority of the votes cast, the candidate with the lowest total is eliminated. If that candidate was your first choice, your vote will now be reallocated to your second choice. This process continues until one candidate has a majority.

Here’s a handy video about how it works:

Why RCV Is a Good Idea

The 2020 Democratic primary for the 4th Massachusetts Congressional District (MA-04 for you political wonks) provides a great case for Ranked-Choice Voting. The incumbent, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, didn’t run for re-election. As often happens in races with no incumbent, the field of hopefuls was large: in this case, seven. Jake Auchincloss won with 22% of the vote. The second-place finisher had 21%. The rest of the votes were scattered among the other five candidates.

Tam Lin supports RCV.

MA-04 is a reliably blue district. (There are currently no Republicans in the Massachusetts congressional delegation. All nine representatives and both senators are Democrats.) It’s highly likely that Auchincloss will win in the general election.

Something similar happened in MA-03 in 2018. Rep. Niki Tsongas didn’t run for re–election. In a field of 9, Lori Trahan won the Democratic primary with 21.7% of the vote. The runner-up had 21.5%. Not surprisingly, there was a hand recount before the results were certified. Trahan was elected to Congress that November.

With Ranked-Choice Voting, no recount would have been required in MA-03 in 2018. In both examples, the Democratic candidate would have advanced to the general election with the support of a majority of primary voters. Primary turnout tends to be pathetic, but 50% plus 1 is a much clearer mandate than 22% or 21.7%.

Maine was the first state to institute RCV in statewide elections. This year it will be expanded to include the presidential election. Why Maine? Well, in 2010 ultra-conservative Paul LePage was elected governor with 37.6% of the vote in a five-person race. In 2014 he was re-elected with 48.2% of the vote because the Democrat (43.4%) and the Independent (8.4%) split the anti-LePage vote. In 2016 Maine voters passed RCV in a ballot initiative. Under Maine law, LePage couldn’t seek a third successive term in 2018, but it’s reported that he’s planning to run again in 2022.

Other Perks of RCV

  • Candidates with similar or compatible platforms and priorities can encourage their supporters to pick the other as #2.
  • Negative campaigning is discouraged because candidates don’t want to turn off voters who might rank them #2 or #3. This might also limit the effect of the big outside money that often fuels the worst attack ads.
  • Voters are encouraged to support lesser-known candidates without fear of splitting the vote (and winding up with a Governor LePage).
  • The GOP, the political party that’s never met a voter-suppression technique it didn’t like, is dead set against Ranked-Choice Voting. The last thing they want is liberals, progressives, and feminists banding together to send those old white guys packing. RCV might also make it harder for “dark money” to drive wedges between various parts of the Democratic coalition.

Vote Vote Vote Vote!

This info is specific to Massachusetts. No matter what state you’re in, you can go to Vote Save America’s interactive States page and find out everything you need to know about voting in your jurisdiction.

Voter registration deadline: Saturday, October 24.

If you’re voting by mail, you should have your ballot by now. Get it in early! When you fill out the ballot envelope, make sure you give the address at which you’re registered. On Martha’s Vineyard and other rural or semi-rural areas, this is often not where we get our mail. Don’t fill in your PO box number.

Many jurisdictions have drop boxes where you can deposit your vote-by-mail ballot instead of putting it in the mail. If you have this option and can take advantage of it, it’s a good idea, especially the closer we get to Election Day.

Early voting is Saturday, October 17, through Friday, October 30. Check with your local election official (in all Vineyard towns it’s the town clerk; see the chart below) for location and hours.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 3. The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (I’ll be working the polls in West Tisbury from 7 a.m. to 12 noon.) Think of it as your last chance to vote in the most important election of our lifetimes.

If you’re on Martha’s Vineyard, here’s almost everything you need to know except who and what to vote for. In Tisbury, there’s no drop box, but you can leave your ballot envelope in the town clerk’s office during open hours.  Also note that the registration deadline is October 24, not the 23rd.

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September License Plate Report

If the new map looks a lot like the old map, it’s because it is. No new sightings in September.

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Black Lives Matter @ 5 Corners

I just read Isabel Wilkerson’s new book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Like her first book, The Warmth of Other Suns, it’s a mind expander. Did you know that in establishing their diabolical caste system, the Nazis looked for guidance to the laws of the Jim Crow South? I didn’t either.

But it’s not just the book’s information that makes the book so gut-level important to me. It’s the way it focuses what I’ve been learning all my adult life, especially the revelations that started to crescendo around the time Barack Obama became president and have become overwhelming during the Trump administration. Out of those insights came the words I wrote on my sign for this past Saturday’s Black Lives Matter rally at Five Corners:

Growing up in Massachusetts I was sheltered from what began to happen in the rest of the country with LBJ’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. President Johnson famously said — or, rather, is famously said to have said — after the signing of the former that “we [the Democrats] have lost the South for a generation.” Whether he said it or not, subsequent decades proved him right but overoptimistic: it’s been two generations, going on three and still counting.

Much has been made of the 53% of white women who voted for Trump in 2016. It’s actually worse than that. Notes Isabel Wilkerson: “Lyndon Johnson was the last Democrat to win the presidency with a majority of the white electorate.” Even southerner Jimmy Carter only got 48%. Bill Clinton got 39% in 1992 and 44% in 1996. I don’t believe Democrats have done half enough to acknowledge where their power is coming from.

Enough IS Enough.

I only registered as a Democrat in January 2017. Asked my political affiliation, I’m apt to respond with “feminist,” not “Democrat. But a few individuals notwithstanding, the anti-choice GOP was no place for a feminist. Being white, it took me longer to figure out it had become such a refuge for people who equated “American” with “white.” Me, I’m choosing democracy.




Here are a few images from Saturday’s rally. Names dominate so many of our signs because the saying of names is so important. Names have power. Names make it real.

Note that the peace flag is flying from a fishing pole.

Finishing up the banner after the rally has started


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Coleus Comeback

It’s been a weird year for everything (understatement of the century), so not surprisingly my garden has been disappointing. The cherry tomato seedlings I bought looked spindly, and they pretty much lived up — or down — to their appearance, but they have produced a modest crop of cherries. Thanks to gardeners far more competent than I, I’ve been able to indulge my penchant for cherry tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with kosher salt, and slow-cooked at about 200°F for a couple hours.

More disappointing was the non-performance of my basil. The seeds for my first planting were old and did not sprout. The second planting did better but didn’t get started till the very end of June so not much came of that either. Only one of the seedlings I bought really thrived, and that one wouldn’t yield enough to make even one batch of pesto, so I lost interest.

My two coleus plants, on the other hand, did wonderfully. I love coleus, the way it catches the light at different times of day out on my deck railing.

Both of them looked pretty much like this.

Then, in the high winds of early September, one of them blew off the deck railing. This has happened before. Plants have survived the two-story drop with a few missing leaves but basically OK.

Not this time. It landed on the wooden steps. The fall smashed the clay pot and severed all major stems from their roots.

Hard not to see it as some kind of omen, right?

Well, I put the broken stems in the compost, planted the root, minus its glorious foliage, in a bigger pot, added soil and water, and kept an eye out.

A very few days later, the truncated stem had sprouted a few leaves.

September 11

A few days after that, it was still growing.

September 15

And it’s still at it.

September 26

Now I’m not going to attach any cosmic meaning to this, tempted though I am with the most important election of my lifetime coming up, but any time a living thing shows this much resilience and ability to come back from the almost dead, I’m going to take heed.

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August License Plate Report

License plate reports seem to be getting later and later. I aim for the first of the following month, and usually make it within a few days, but not with the July report (August 12), and August’s is even later. September 1 was primary election day in Massachusetts, I worked at the polls in my town from 7 a.m. to noon, and the election went swimmingly from my point of view: I volunteered for Senator Ed Markey in his fight for renomination against challenger Rep. Joe Kennedy, and he won handily 55% to 46.5%.

I could blame this late report on that, combined with a demanding copyediting job that I’m running behind on thanks to various political activities, but that’s not it. It’s late because I’ve been feeling sludgy about writing in general since the Covid-19 shutdowns started in mid-March. Now working on breaking up the sludge and writing regularly again . . .

So back to the report: August was quite a good month in the license plate game. Washington state and Michigan finally showed up, along with Kentucky and Iowa. So the YTD tally stands at 44. Still AWOL are Alaska, Utah, Oklahoma, Mississippi, West Virginia, and both Dakotas. Haven’t seen any of them so far in September, but a third of the month still remains.

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July License Plate Report

The July license plate report is really late. Blame it on the sultry heat, political activities, and (of course) procrastination. Delaware finally showed up, but the encouraging score was Nebraska, one of the hard-to-get stack in the middle of the country. Nebraska is elusive enough that when I thought I spotted it — outside the Methodist parsonage in Oak Bluffs — I went back to check it out. It checked out. As of yesterday, in fact, it’s still there, so if you’re still looking for Nebraska . . .

At this point last year, I was still missing three from that mid-America stack — Nebraska, Kansas, and South Dakota — as well as Alaska, Idaho, and Alabama. So I’m running behind last year’s pace, which isn’t all that surprising given what COVID-19 continues to do both to the Vineyard’s summer season and to the country at large.

Late summer brings doldrums to the license plate game, and fall is even worse, but while at the hospital yesterday for a dental appointment I spotted Iowa and Kentucky. All is not lost!


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Who’s a Good Boy?

Tam Lin, aka my Tim-Tam-Tommy-O, was a super good dog yesterday, which also happened to be his 16-month-old day. I told him I was going to blog about how wonderful he was, and he said, more or less, “About time! The last time you blogged about me it was because I ran into your head.”

“Well, you did run into my head, and gave me one helluva shiner,” I retorted, a little guiltily, I must admit.

“Your head was on the ground,” he pointed out.

If you need to win all your arguments, don’t argue with a malamute. Besides, the only remaining trace of our collision last month is a little scar under my left eyebrow, and Tam really was a good dog yesterday.

Tam’s annual checkup was scheduled for yesterday morning. He’s been good on previous vet visits, but COVID-19 has altered my vet’s usual practice: owners can’t come in with their pets. (Her office and surgery are in her home.) Tam has separation anxiety, and as we drove into the little parking area, I was having separation anxiety, like was Tam going to have a meltdown once I was out of sight?

I followed the protocol: don my mask while in the car, leash Tam, take him over to the stair post, hook him to the pink leash tied there, unhook his own leash, and withdraw to at least six feet away. When the vet tech came out, Tam looked over at me, then he went into the building with her. I went back to my car to wait, phone lying on the seat beside me, me hoping that it wouldn’t ring with news that Tam was going nuts.

Tick tick tick

It didn’t. When it rang, it was my vet reporting that Tam had been a good boy but that he’d tested positive for both Lyme and anaplasmosis, another tick-borne disease. This being Martha’s Vineyard, I was not surprised. Treatment is the same for both, so Tam is on doxycycline for the next 30 days. I’m happy to report that the 120 capsules I got from my vet were a lot cheaper than the doxy I got from the pharmacy the last time I needed it for myself. Tam disappears the capsules — two with breakfast, two with supper — along with his food. The peanut butter definitely helps.

Tam’s often waiting at the top of the stairs when I come back from the bathroom.

My writers’ group was scheduled to meet at 2 in the afternoon. In pre-COVID days, we met indoors on Sunday evenings, and Tam often came along. These days we’re meeting outside on Monday afternoons, and since there are hens, ducks, guineas, and occasionally turkeys wandering about, Tam has to stay home. He gets vocal when I’m gone, and when I was working the polls on town election day in June, a summer neighbor called my neighbor-landlady to complain about the howling so I had to go home an hour before my shift ended. Now I do understand that an intermittently howling dog can be annoying, but this particular summer neighbor’s place is the source of almost continual landscaping (etc.) noise when he’s not in residence, and I can’t recall anyone else in the neighborhood setting off fireworks and making whoopee in the middle of the night.

Anyhow, I’ve skipped several events I should have attended in order to avoid antagonizing this neighbor, but I was determined to attend my writers’ group meeting; I’d missed the last two owing to looming deadlines. Usually when I go out I leave Tam in his crate, but this time I decided to let him loose in the apartment. In hot weather he likes to sleep at the foot of the inside stairs, where it’s coolest. I closed the windows and door to block as much sound as possible and left Tam inside with his Kong Wobbler and a peanut butter bone.

I also took my phone with me and asked my neighbor-landlady to call if summer neighbor raised a ruckus. If Tam did whine or howl, it wasn’t enough to bother summer neighbor, and when I got home the apartment was just the way I left it.

All the above is to prove to Tam that I blog about him when he’s good as well as when he collides with my head.

Favorite summer snoozing place

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Frederick Douglass, from 1852 to 2020

So many annual summer events have been cancelled due to COVID-19’s imperative to avoid large crowds. Way back in March I wondered if the annual July 4 reading of Frederick Douglass’s “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech would be a casualty of the pandemic.

Frederick Douglass

Informally dubbed “Speech on the Beach,” the reading takes place at the Inkwell in Oak Bluffs and has been happening for some 16 years. My first participation, in 2014, might have marked the first time in my life that I really celebrated the Fourth of July. I blogged about it in 2014 in “Best 4th of July Ever,” and again in 2018, in “Channeling Frederick Douglass.” A year and a half into the Trump administration, Douglass’s challenge to the country was more relevant than ever, and as for this year, 2020? After three and a half years of Trump, racism is more virulent and more lethal than ever, and it’s crystal-clear that Trump and the Republican Party don’t believe that the country belongs to all the people.

Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July speech, first given on July 5, 1852, is more crucial than ever, and thanks to visionary sponsor Abigail McGrath, producer Makani Themba, video wizard Michelle Vivian of MVTV, and a cast of dozens, it happened again.

On video. As usual, each participant was assigned a portion of the speech. Not as usual, we had to video ourselves and submit the file to Michelle, who would wrangle all the parts into a cohesive whole. A daunting challenge for sure.

In her introduction to the video, Abby McGrath talks about how true art changes you, and why Douglass’s speech is true art: “After you’ve heard it, your mind opens up, and you see things that you hadn’t seen before.” That’s what happened to me the first time I heard it, the first time I participated in reading it, and every time since that I’ve had the opportunity to read Douglass’s glorious, challenging words.

In her intro, Makani takes us back to July 5, 1852, when Douglass delivered the speech to a mostly white audience in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York. She evokes the present, of Black Lives Matter supporters rallying, marching, working for change. Then she ties the two together with Douglass’s own words: “Men talk of the Negro problem. There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their Constitution.”

What he said. The original speech was close to three hours long. This abridgment is less than one hour, including those introductory remarks. I miss the live reading at the Inkwell, but I love seeing the faces of all my sister and brother readers close up and glimpsing the spaces they’re reading in. Now listen. See what you see, hear what you hear.


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June License Plate Report

Sorry for delay — I’ve had a bunch of deadlines, one of which is still staring me in the face. Only two new sightings in June, both good ones: Indiana and Idaho. (If the I’s have it, can Iowa be far behind?)

The elusiveness of Washington state is perplexing. Usually the West Coast fills in by the end of February — I mean, hey, the West Coast comprises only three states while the East Coast has fourteen. (Speaking of which, I just noticed Delaware is still AWOL. WTF??)

I’m pretty sure the low license plate count is due to reduced summer traffic rather than my not being out much. In June I attended two Black Lives Matter events, both of which involved time on the road. One of them included a three-mile trek from Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs on a Friday afternoon, during which I saw lots of license plates, but nothing I hadn’t seen before.

“Reduced summer traffic” doesn’t mean no summer traffic, however. There are still a lot more people here than there were in May, even though none of the big-crowd events are happening this year.

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Voting in the Age of COVID-19

For the first time in anyone’s memory, and maybe the first time ever, West Tisbury held its annual town meeting (ATM — and yes, cash gets dispensed here, but not the way you non–New Englanders may be thinking!) in another town.

On Tuesday, June 23. Five of the six island towns usually hold their ATMs in April; Aquinnah is always the last, in early May. This year they were all held in June.

West Tisbury annual town meeting, April 9, 2019

COVID-19 has played havoc with town meeting season. Take a look at what West Tisbury’s ATM looked like in 2019: see the problem?

Upwards of 300 voters generally turn out for our annual town meeting, which is held in the West Tisbury School gym. In the age of COVID-19, large indoor gatherings are contraindicated, period, and no way could a quorum be accommodated in that space.

Not to mention, the COVID-19 situation had been developing rapidly since mid-March, when the commonwealth shut down all but essential services and shelter in place became a way of life. When would it be (relatively) OK to hold town meeting? How could it be done (relatively) safely? If you’ve ever been to a Vineyard town meeting, you’ll know that the median age of participating voters is probably over 60.

Town officials were also up against a deadline. Allocating town funds is a major part of every ATM, the current fiscal year ends on June 30, and the town’s FY 2021 budget has to be in place by July 1. The commonwealth’s phase 2, calling for a limited reopening, began on June 8 (which happens to be my birthday), and that’s when Town Meeting Season 2020 began: Chilmark, the second-smallest island town, held its ATM on the basketball court at the Chilmark Community Center.

Outdoors was the way to go, with or without tents. Tisbury and Edgartown held their ATMs on their respective school fields. Both Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury held theirs at the Tabernacle, the centerpiece of the Campground in Oak Bluffs, a week apart. The Tabernacle has a roof but the only wall is the one behind the stage.

A bill was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor allowing towns to reduce their quorums (quora?) to no less than 10% of the usual quorum. West Tisbury’s usual quorum (the number of voters who have to be present for business to be transacted) is 120 — 5% of the electorate. For this ATM it was reduced to 30. The number who actually participated was 115.

Town officials sat masked and socially distanced at the front. From left, selectboard members Kent Healy and Cindy Mitchell; moderator Dan Waters; town counsel Ron Rappaport; and selectboard member Skipper Manter.

Town officials did a great job of arranging the ad hoc venue to accommodate social distancing. The Tabernacle seats people on benches. Every other row was blocked off, and in the rows that remained, a social distance of about six feet was Xed out with tape to indicate where we shouldn’t sit.

Microphones were set up in each aisle, with someone sitting by to wipe down the mic after each speaker. Masks block the transmission of the coronavirus, but they also muffle the spoken word, so when we addressed the moderator, we dropped our masks. (Logging in voters on election day, I noticed that masks — which everyone was wearing — made it harder not only to recognize people you knew but also to distinguish consonants at the beginning of names.)

Socially distanced West Tisbury voters

It took less than two hours — about half the usual time — to deal with the warrant, which had been stripped down to focus on essential financial issues.

For me (and for a few others, as I’ve discovered in conversations since), the highlight of the meeting was  Cindy Mitchell’s reading of the Diversity Statement passed by the selectboard earlier this month.

Our town election was held on Thursday. Town clerk Tara Whiting-Wells and her team did a great job of adapting our usual polling place, the Public Safety Building on State Road, to the demands of the age. Instead of using the side door, we entered through the garage bay, allowing us to see our fire engines up close and personal. Check-in was in the hallway; on the usual check-in table just inside the door of the meeting room were a stack of ballots and a supply of pens. You could bring your own pen but they had to be “any color but red,” because the voting machine seems to be color-blind for red.

The check-out table seen from the entrance door. Voting booths on the right, ballot box just visible by the exit door on the left.

In normal times there are two poll workers each at the check-in and check-out tables, divvying up the alphabetized voting roster between them. This year one person at each table dealt with everybody. (This was also true at town meeting.) People maintained social distance when waiting in line, but — as usual in town elections — the lines were minimal. Two of every three polling booths were blocked off.

About 400 people voted, including absentee and early voters, 15.35% of the 2,605 on the voting rolls at the end of 2019. This is about par for the course for a town election with only one contested race on the ballot, but for statewide and national elections our percentage turnout is generally in the 70s. We could, in other words, do better, both in turnout and in the number of contested races.

Why those green cones were labeled CHAPPY FERRY is anyone’s guess; Tara knows but wasn’t telling. It seems that West Tisbury’s town election, like our town meeting, was a multi-town effort.

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