This year’s election season on the Vineyard is most noticeable for what’s not happening on the Island. There are no campaign signs or tough political debates. Nor has there been a candidate forum to attend, for those so inclined.
At next Thursday’s annual town elections in West Tisbury, Edgartown and Oak Bluffs, odds are voters won’t be faced with candidates waving campaign signs, either. That’s because in Edgartown and West Tisbury there is not a single contested race. In fact, there are no candidates for the one open spot on Edgartown’s board of assessors, and just one person is on the ballot for two seats on the financial advisory committee. West Tisbury’s ballot is perfectly balanced; one candidate for each available seat.
Oak Bluffs has only one contested race; two people are running for one spot on the water commission.
Tisbury has moved its town election back to April 30, but the town clerk told the Gazette that so far, no race is contested. The big draw that day is likely to be the primary for the senate special election. Chilmark, too, has its election on April 30, and the ballot tells the same story: no contests and several blank spots. It’s been 10 years since Edgartown had a new selectman. In 2003 Michael Donaroma was elected to fill longtime selectman Fred Morgan’s seat. Mr. Donaroma is now running (uncontested) for his fourth term. Selectman Margaret Serpa is in her fourth term and selectman Arthur Smadbeck was elected to his seventh term last year. The last time an Edgartown selectman was challenged was in 2008, when Robert Fynbo ran against Ms. Serpa and lost.
The lack of contested races, and in some towns the dearth of candidates, has town clerks wondering.
“In other years . . . I don’t think we’ve ever had positions without someone running, and so I think that’s a little unusual,” Ms. Serpa told the Gazette. “I hope someone steps forward.”
“I think it’s kind of rare for all of the Island,” Edgartown town clerk Wanda Williams told the Gazette. “Normally there’s at least one or two [contested races]. It’s really strange.”
She said the number of people coming in to vote early is also down. “I don’t know what the problem is,” she said. “It’s really, really strange.”
“There isn’t a lot to bicker about,” she said of this year’s ballot, noting the big question on the ballot is approval for new fire trucks.
On the Oak Bluffs ballot, the lines under the planning board are blank, with nobody running for the one open spot. Selectman Gail Barmakian is running unopposed, as are candidates for nearly every other elected board.
The hot race is for the Water District Commission, where George E. Brown is challenging incumbent Michael S. deBettencourt.
“This is very rare, I’ve never seen so few people,” Oak Bluffs town clerk Deborah Ratcliff said. “Apparently voters seem to be complacent with the way things are going.”
This translates to lower interest, she said. “We usually have around 70 our 80 absentee ballots,” she said. “We have maybe 12.”
She predicted a quiet day next week, though “I hope people do come out to vote,” she said.
When asked why there are so many uncontested races in Oak Bluffs, Priscilla Sylvia responded “Contentment, of course.” Ms. Sylvia, a longtime school committee member, is running (unopposed) for the land bank commission. “We’ve reached that point, things are running smoothly. People are happy doing what they do, and people are happy they’re doing it.”
But “it’s a shame, because there should always be contested races,” she added, noting that contests bring new issues to the table. The lack of candidates is a “phenomenon that has struck the whole Island.”
She also said the time commitment needed for some of the boards makes it hard for some people, especially younger people with families, to serve. She noted that Island selectmen are usually older and retired.
In Chilmark, should anyone want to run for the finance committee (there are two available spots and no takers), the cemetery commission or for surveyor of wood, lumber and bark, the write-in field is wide open.
Longtime Chilmark selectman Warren Doty wasn’t surprised by Chilmark’s ballot. “We’ve seen this often,” he said. “It’s not unusual.”
“I guess we have to find some candidates for the fin com [financial committee],” he said, noting that some key positions, like board of selectmen, will be filled. The surveyor of wood, lumber and bark isn’t a make or break position, he said.
“There just aren’t that many people who are willing to do it,” he said. “Also, if [voters are] more or less happy with the way the town is being run,” and there aren’t any open seats, people often run unopposed, he said.
“It’s a huge time commitment,” he said. “You have to be willing to put in a lot of energy for very little pay.”
Back in Edgartown, Ms. Williams said she has heard that people are running as write-in candidates, though no one has declared a candidacy with Ms. Williams. Board of assessors member Edward Belisle, who was up for re-election, passed away in February, she said. If there are no write-ins — which is unlikely, Ms. Williams said, considering that it only takes a few votes to get appointed — the selectmen can call a special election, or there can be an appointment.
When all else fails, one could always elect their pet.
Years ago, Ms. Williams recalled, someone decided to campaign to have their cat win a write-in seat. Sure enough, Ms. Williams said, the cat received 10 or 12 votes, enough to be elected. Alas, she said, the cat did not end up serving on the committee.
The print version of this article incorrectly stated the date of Tisbury's town election. It is April 30.