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5 Next-Day Hot Takes on Tewksbury’s 2022 Election

Tewksbury doesn’t break 10% of registered voters lately — unless questions are on the ballot. The only time in the past five years that the town has exceeded 10% of registered voters was in 2019, when an override for the new elementary school and questions on marijuana were on the ballot. 

2022: 23,921 / 2,271 / 9.5%

2021: 23,531 / 2,011 / 8.5%

2020: 23,217 / 1,068 / 4.6%

2019: 22,466 / 3,959 / 17.6%

2018: 21,887 / 1,801 / 8.3%

Given a field of 17 diverse candidates and Covid waning in impact, many residents anticipated a bump in turnout that never materialized. And don’t blame confusion. Reached early today, town clerk Denise Graffeo said poll workers saw “a slight uptick in voter inquiries surrounding finding their polling places, but we were expecting that, and the staff was prepared to direct them.”

Graffeo also gave a shout out to “the unsung heroes — the dedicated and professional poll workers who once again implemented a successful election in Tewksbury.”

Traditionally, low-turnout elections favor incumbents. That didn’t fully hold, as incumbent Jayne Wellman held her Select Board seat while Planning Board member Jay Delaney lost his to newcomer Jim Duffy in a four-way race.

What causes low turnout? It’s difficult to blame not knowing there was an election given copious information from Graffeo and the fact that, laid end-to-end, the number of lawn signs scattered around town could probably build a pothole-free road up Rt. 38 from Wilmington to the Lowell border. 

A solution that’s worked elsewhere is to align local annual elections with state and federal elections. That would also lower costs. But it would require significant changes to the Town charter and bylaws.

Retail politics pays off. On a local level, retail politics is all about direct one-on-one contact between candidates or their surrogates. Yesterday many voters got personal texts reminding them to vote and supporting particular (successful) candidates. This suggests that time spent holding signs or mass-mailing generic postcards may be more productively used on high-touch outreach.

As a side note, that brand of retail politics is time-tested. Says one local party operative of calls, texts and very personalized cards, “Everything old is new again!” And preparation matters, too. Both winning school committee members laid extensive groundwork, with Richard Russo saying he’s been working on his candidacy for a solid year.

Beware the blanks. There’s a saying that you never want to “get beat by the blanks,” where people could vote for two candidates but choose only one or skip a race altogether. In the former case, an exceptionally large number of blanks is often the result of what’s called a “bullet vote” campaign, where candidates ask their supporters to leave one possible vote on the table.

Get full results here.

Yesterday, voters could choose two Select Board candidates, and the top and bottom vote getters are separated by just 154. Yet there were 867 blanks in the Select Board race — and 1,043 for the Board of Health — compared with 742 for the School Committee. 

Whether it was newcomer Jomarie Buckley or current and former Select Board member Mark Kratman (or both) who benefited is impossible to know, but it’s pretty likely Wellman’s numbers were depressed by the bullet votes.

The Board of Health? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

Professional local journalism is lacking. One of the Lowell Sun’s Tewksbury reporters was spotted running around Town Hall looking for “the rest of the precincts,” while another showed up to take photos and speak to candidates around 4 p.m., after many campaigns had called it a day. 

Tewksbury voters don’t like negativity. The Sun’s (days late and a number of facts short) “Kratman’s legal woes” column item published today seems to be driven by a viral Facebook post on the town’s residents page, which called out a February Town Crier article about Kratman, who narrowly topped the SB field yesterday. Last week, after that post got almost 400 comments before being shut down, a longtime resident and former School Committee member privately shared her take: “Tewksbury doesn’t like negativity — this is going to backfire.”

Again, hard to say how social media negativity affected the outcome. But we note that new School Committee member Kayla Biagioni-Smith, who topped the ticket among all four competitive races, ran a decidedly positive and independent campaign that should be a model going forward, in our opinion — though such a race is probably more difficult for an incumbent to pull off, saddled as they are with a voting record.

Endorsements are a mixed bag. Close to the election, two sitting Select Board members, Anne Marie Stronach and Todd Johnson, and Tewksbury state representative David Robertson formally endorsed Buckley. The TTA endorsed Nicole Burgett-Yandow. Both fell short. Select Board chair Jay Kelly and the Fire Dept. union endorsed Kratman and Biagioni-Smith, who both won. So again, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

You didn’t see reporting on Burgett-Yandow’s, Kratman’s or Biagioni-Smith’s union endorsements in the Carnation because not all candidates were considered. We explain our reasoning here. But again, it seems clear that individual officials who strongly believe in a candidate may better spend their time on personal outreach.

Thank you to all the candidates who ran. It takes guts to put your name on a ballot. Team Carnation looks forward to seeing how newly elected officials contribute to the fabric of our community.

Lorna is a 25-year resident of Tewksbury who has written for organizations ranging from the DIA to InformationWeek to a free weekly in New London that sent her to interview the pastry chef at Foxwoods.

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