Caucus time

The practice of convening a Town Caucus to choose candidates for elective town offices is as old as the town itself. It’s an institution that, after some debate, Harvard’s charter commissioners chose to preserve as one of three methods of running for office. On Monday, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m. in Town Hall, Town Clerk Marlene Kenney will convene the first such meeting to be held since the Harvard Charter was enacted this spring.

This fall’s caucus is, in a sense, a “special” Town Caucus, called for the sole purpose of nominating candidates to fill the seat on the five-member Select Board left vacant when former board member Ken Swanton resigned unexpectedly in July. In a normal year, Town Caucus and Town Election are held in the spring, when the terms of officeholders on town boards expire. So far, one citizen, Noyan Kinayman, has said he will run. Perhaps we will learn of others on Monday. Swanton’s successor will be chosen this November in a Town Election held concurrently with the 2018 state and congressional elections.

In colonial times, a town caucus was often a secret affair in which prominent male members of a community got together in a smoke-filled room to choose who among them was worthy to run for office. These days, however, a town caucus is public, and any registered voter may attend and nominate and vote for candidates. The two nominees with the largest vote totals are guaranteed a place on the ballot. If not among the top two, a candidate may also run for office by taking out nomination papers from the town clerk’s office, but that’s a more challenging path. Twenty-five certified signatures of voters registered in Harvard are required to place a candidate on the ballot. The signed nomination papers must be filed with the town clerk by 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. Though it’s rarely successful, candidates can bypass the nominating process entirely with a third option: waging a write-in campaign.

In debating whether to retain Town Caucus as a means of selecting candidates, some charter commissioners saw it as unwelcoming, a meeting of town government insiders whose clubbiness can be offputting to outsiders and newcomers. But an open caucus like Harvard’s can also be seen as an opportunity for qualified candidates who enjoy the support of a nontraditional constituency to gain a place on the ballot, a means for new faces to break free of traditional insider influence and, in this year of insurgencies, add a candidate or two to the November ballot who can set a new direction for the most important elected board in Harvard.

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