Inside Stories

District 2 May Require a Special Election

by Dr. Anne Mulhern,

This November, Corey Robinson,  who is currently serving as City Councilor for Lowell District 2, won re-election by an overwhelming majority, beating his opponent, Martin J. Hogan, with 562 votes to Hogan’s 141. Under normal circumstances, Robinson would be just now concluding his current term and taking up a new, two-year  term.

But the situation is anything but normal. Later in November, Robinson was charged with a serious criminal offense and it is possible that he will be convicted and sentenced.

Since then, most of the City Councilors have issued statements about the matter, and Lori Trahan, the member of Congress for the Congressional District that includes Lowell, has publicly called for Robinson to “step aside.” During the first City Council meeting in December, several of the City Councilors followed what seemed to be a concerted playbook of tabling all of Robinson’s motions. A motion was filed regarding adding some ability to censure a City Councilor to the City Council charter  and Deb Belanger, who has previously run for City Council, spoke to the motion and concluded by requesting that Robinson resign.

But all this has left out the very practical question of what to do if Robinson, or any other City Councilor for that matter, becomes unable to fulfill his duties in the middle of a term.

In times past, when all City Councilors were At-large, that is ran for election throughout the entire city, the rule was simple: the first loser becomes a winner, and gets to fill the vacancy. Apparently that rule still applies now that there are only three At-large Councilors and eight District Councilors. (In the event that there is no loser in a District race, because the person elected ran unopposed, then the City Councilors and the School Committee get to the pick the new City Councilor from a list of applicants for the position.) Should Robinson be unable to continue to serve as City Councilor, the rule says that Martin J. Hogan, the loser in the District 2 election, shall fill the vacancy.

Unfortunately, this disenfranchises the voters of District 2 in a way that would not have occurred before the introduction of the District seats. All District elections are a binary choice, because if there are more than two candidates, a run-off election is held to eliminate all but the two who get the most votes.

A vote for Robinson was a vote against Hogan, or, in other words Hogan is not the “runner-up” or next best, he’s the candidate who was rejected, overwhelmingly, by the voters of District 2. It is unfair to those voters that he should now be the person designated as their City Councilor. To add insult to injury, when a voter votes in a District election, that vote is worth much more than their vote in an At-large election, because it must contend only with the other votes cast in their district (of which there were only about 800 in the  last District 2 election while there were roughly 10 times as many cast in the At-large elections). If Hogan were chosen to replace Robinson, then every voter who voted for Robinson in the District 2 election would have, in effect, their most effective City Councilor vote simply thrown away.

Under these circumstances, the best, and indeed the only solution that is fair to the voters of District 2, should Robinson be unable to continue in his duties as City Councilor, is to hold a special election for District 2 to decide the question of who shall be that district’s chosen City Councilor. It remains to be seen, however, whether the City Council and other relevant legislative bodies will see things that way.

2 responses to “District 2 May Require a Special Election”

  1. Paul Early says:

    Are you suggesting that no one voted “for” Corey Robinson. That all 562 votes cast for Robinson were in fact votes against Martin Hogan? That seems a bit ridiculous.

    By the way, I would say the low voter turn out in this district, as well as in the city as a whole, is much worse and perhaps more disenfranchising. What about those other thousands (I would assum) voters in the 2nd district, who didn’t vote. Were their lack of votes, votes against Hogan and Robinson?

  2. Dr. Anne Mulhern says:

    @Paul Early

    Here are the results from the last election:

    (It’s unfortunate that the final results haven’t been posted yet, just the interim ones, but that’s a different issue.)

    As you can see, in District 2 only a bit more than 7% of the eligible voters actually cast a ballot in their District City Councillor election. The 92% who did not cast a vote, roughly 9000 persons, are not “disenfranchised”, they are just non-voters.

    My proposal of having a special election in the case that Robinson is unable to continue as a City Councillor enfranchises 100% of the eligible voters in District 2, whether or not they choose to take advantage of the opportunity to vote. The rule in place, to select Hogan, enfranchises none, as an alternative candidate may emerge in a special election whom many of the voters who previously cast their ballots for Hogan might then prefer (or alternatively, many who previously cast their votes for Robinson might, in the special election, prefer Hogan to the alternative candidate). In other words, the only way to find out who the district prefers to be their District City Councillor is to ask them, formally, by holding a special election.

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