By Emily Mitchell
Trustee, Bedford Free Public Library
Board member, The Bedford Citizen

This past Saturday, March 11, was Election Day in Bedford. Twelve committee positions were up for election, with thirteen candidates on the ballot either through nomination at the January Town Caucus or through individual filings. Only one race, for Library Trustee, was contested, with three candidates vying for two open spots.

Did you vote?

If you’re like most people in Bedford, the answer is no. Only 6.17% of Bedford’s 10,000 registered voters took a few minutes out of their Saturday to participate in the franchise and determine who represents us and our interests in our own community (http://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2017/03/election-2017-official-results/).

Six percent. That turnout is, quite frankly, pathetic.

If six percent of your child’s classroom of 22 students showed up for school on a test day, the grading curve would be determined by one student. Great for that kid—not so great for everybody else.

If six percent of the Red Sox starting lineup showed up at game time, the outcome of the game would rest on four and a half innings from the starting pitcher. That’s a lot of pressure on half a guy with no defense behind him.

So what gives, Bedford? Since last fall’s presidential election, I have heard and seen countless examples of fellow citizens fired up about democracy—participating in marches, forming or joining in-person and online advocacy groups, hosting postcard-writing parties, and calling their elected representatives to convey praise or concern. The outpouring of interest and participation in the workings of our state and national government is heartening and inspiring, as so many of us are taking part in politics in ways we never have before and never thought we would.

If you’re one of those newly active citizens, did you vote on Saturday?

And if you didn’t, why not?

If you’ve marched in a rally in the past few months but did not vote on Saturday—are you really what democracy looks like?

If you’ve called your senators about pending legislation but did not vote on Saturday—are you a constituent she or he should take seriously?

If you’ve donated money to campaigns or advocacy groups but did not vote on Saturday—are you fulfilling your civic duty wisely?

If you’ve posted political articles on social media but did not vote on Saturday—are you truly making your voice heard?

Saturday was cold. Weekends are busy, especially for those of us with active children to cart around from one thing to another. There was a snowstorm on the way, so the French Toast Alert Level was high and the grocery stores packed. The elections were barely contested, so the presence of one more or one fewer voter might have seemed inconsequential.

But the fact remains that exercising the franchise—VOTING—is the single most powerful way to participate in our democracy. Rallies, phone calls, political donations, and letters like this one are all useful ways to speak one’s mind, but without a vote behind them, they mean less. Taking five minutes out of a Saturday to stop at the middle school and fill in some bubbles on a ballot is both less trouble and more effective than anything on the former list to make an impact on our shared community.

Instructions for registering to vote in Bedford can be found here: http://www.bedfordma.gov/town-clerk/pages/voter-registration Absentee ballot information is also available on the town website: http://www.bedfordma.gov/town-clerk/pages/absentee-ballots

So what now?

Annual Town Meeting is coming up in two weeks, on Monday, March 27, at 7:30 pm in the Bedford High School Auditorium. Town Meeting is Bedford’s form of government: we have selectmen and committees that prepare budgets and carry out plans, but it’s the voters at Town Meeting who determine the direction of our community.

Will you be there to add your voice and vote?

I understand that for many Bedford residents, Town Meeting is inconvenient: held on a weeknight with an indeterminate end time, it’s a difficult proposition for people with small children, people without access to transportation, and people who cannot stay out late for medical or work reasons. And here I will confess my own civic sins and admit that I have not been a regular Town Meeting attendee since my children were babies.

But I’ll be there this year. If I’m truly committed to being a more active participant in government, I owe it to myself, to my fellow Bedford citizens, and to my children’s generation to pay attention, show up, and vote.

The warrant for this year’s Town Meeting is available here: http://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/2017_atm_warrant_final.pdf It contains reports from town officers and committees, general and zoning bylaw amendments to be considered and voted on, and budgets for operating and capital expenses. Take a gander at the warrant, and I’ll bet you’ll find something on the docket that directly impacts or interests you. (Having crawled up in the catwalk high above the JGMS auditorium, for example, I’m particularly interested in Project 18-13 on the Capital Expenditure Committee report.)

If you have never been to Town Meeting, our current and former Town Moderators, Catherine Cordes and Betsey Anderson, are holding an introductory workshop for residents on Saturday, March 18, at 10 am in the Fitch Room at Town Center (http://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2017/03/participating-bedfords-open-town-meeting-workshop-residents/). You can find out how Town Meeting works, what’s on the warrant to be voted on, and why you should care.

I feel so fortunate to live in a town filled with active volunteers—in our schools, on our children’s sports teams, in our houses of worship, and in civic and nonprofit organizations. Seeing scores of people donating their time and energies to events like Bedford Day, the PMC Kids’ Ride, and the BEST Color Run fills me with pride in my adopted hometown. So I urge everyone—especially those who did not make it to the polls last weekend—to add one more bit of civic engagement to their lives by attending Town Meeting and voting in Town Elections every year.

Don’t feel guilty. Don’t make excuses. Just show up, and vote.

Our town depends on us.

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