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Get ready to vote: Ballot preview

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Get ready to vote: Ballot preview
Photo Credit: “Ballot Booth at Ethete Polling Station”, Lindsay D’Addato, https://www.flickr.com/photos/wyofile/8170272919/. Some rights reserved

The presidential race and fiery charter expansion debates have seized headlines this election cycle, but far more is on the ballot. Voters also will be asked to decide on a slots parlor, farm animal treatment (which could affect food prices), recreational marijuana legalization, Community Preservation Act implementation in certain municipalities and several legislative races.

Get a preview before you hit the voting booth.

Cast your vote

Early voting is open until Nov. 4

Election day is Nov. 8, with polls open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Find your polling location at wheredoivotema.com

Question 1: Slots

The state has reached its slots parlor limit of one, which is in Plainville. If Question 1 passes, the Gaming Commission will be allowed to issue an additional slots license.

The ballot measure allows for a four or more acre establishment with up to 1,249 slot machines, located near or next to a horse racing track. Filling that bill: a spot near Revere’s Suffolk Downs, where developer Eugene McCain has been pushing to build such a parlor.

Opponents include Revere’s mayor, who said in a September news conference that McCain’s proposal brings no benefit to the community. Revere residents sweepingly rejected a slots parlor proposal by a vote of nearly 2:1 in a non-binding October 18 referendum.

Supporters say a Yes vote means adding permanent jobs and bolstering economic growth.

Question 2: Charter school cap

Money pouring into campaigns over Question 2 — which would lift the statewide cap on charter schools — has made it likely to be the most expensive ballot question in state history.

If passed, Q2 would permit annual addition of up to 12 new charter schools or charter enrollment expansion of up to 1 percent of total statewide public school enrollment. If charter applicants outpace this limit, priority will go to expanding charters in low-performing districts. The lift would go into effect on January 1, 2017.

Governor Charlie Baker advocates passing Question 2, while Mayor Martin Walsh opposes it, as does the Boston School Committee.

Supporters say a Yes vote means increasing the availability of educational environments they regard as highly-effective, which provide parents with no added-cost alternatives to district school offerings.

Opponents argue that expansion will siphon money unsustainably from the entire city budget, due to the state’s recent failures to fully fund charter reimbursements and its inadequate system for calculating educational funding. That in turn, opponents say, leaves less money for district schools, which thus far in Boston serve more students and students with higher levels of special needs.

Even with the cap, district schools currently feel an economic strain when money follows students to charter schools, city and Boston Public School finance officials say. Charter expansion advocates, however, have asserted that BPS could satisfy its needs on its current budget if it made wiser spending and structural choices. Some supporters also say that if the state did fund charter reimbursements, BPS would not lose funding.

Some charter schools’ suspension practices also have come under fire for disproportionately affecting students who are minorities or low-income. Opponents to lifting the cap regard this as an attempt to skirt serving such children. Meanwhile, charter school leaders reject claims that they underserve special education students.

Question 3: Farm animal confinement

If passed, Question 3 would prohibit farm operators from confining some animals — egg-laying hens, calves raised for veal and pigs — in conditions so tight that they cannot fully spread their limbs, lie down, stand up and turn around freely. Currently, only one farm in the state violates this — Diemand Farm, which houses 3,000 hens in small, wire cages. Under the proposed law, people would still be allowed to tightly confine animals for purposes such as transportation and medical research.

A second part of the ballot measure prohibits businesses owners and operators from selling eggs or meat from animals kept in these conditions. Food products that use such meat as ingredients — for example, sandwiches and soups — would be exempt. But many grocery stores would have to make changes to their egg purchasing, much of which is conducted with out-of-state providers.

Supporters say the tide is turning this way anyway, with McDonalds and other major retailers moving cage-free. They further assert that the ballot measure extends a basic level of protection from cruelty. The rationale: being held in a way that restricts movement is physically painful and mentally deadening for the animals and prevents their normal socialization. Diemand Farm owners disagree that such confinement is cruel and told the Boston Globe that it prevents hens from attacking each other.

The main opposition argument, however, is that more spacious conditions and the extra feed required by animals that are free to move — (and thus burn more calories, Paul Saunder of Pennsylvania-based Saunder’s Eggs told the Globe)— will drive up costs. In a statement on its website, Protect the Harvest envisions egg prices soaring, putting a currently inexpensive protein out of reach of low-income families.

Both sides agree that prices will rise, but dispute the impact. During a September debate at UMass Boston, supporter Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society said he anticipates an increase cost of 12 cents per dozen eggs. Based on consumption trends, the Boston Globe — which predicts a 12 to 60 cent per dozen increase — says this would add up to no more than $10 extra per year for the average resident. Meanwhile, Protect the Harvest contests the claim that prices could rise by a dollar per dozen.

Q3 supporters include groups such as the MSPCA as well as Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office would be charged with enforcing the law on January 1, 2022. Opponents include the Retailers Association of Massachusetts and Massachusetts Farm Bureau.

Question 4: Marijuana legalization

Currently in the state, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is a non-criminal offense and medical use is legal. Under Question 4, recreational marijuana (in both drug and product form) would become legal to use, distribute, grow and possess for adults age 21 and older.

Restrictions would apply. For instance, individuals could possess up to one ounce of dried pot or 5 grams of concentrate in public and grow up to six pot plants at home. Employers may prohibit use at the workplace, and property owners may prohibit tenants from smoking, selling or producing on their premises. Driving while high would still be illegal, although it may be difficult to catch suspects. Currently no equivalent to a breathalyzer test exists for the drug.

A three-member Cannabis Control Commission would be appointed by the state treasurer to regulate marijuana, including governing health and safety standards and issuing licenses for commercial pot establishments. If Q4 passes, the first licenses will be issued on January 1, 2018, while legalization will be go into effect on December 15, 2016.

Municipalities must pass a vote to ban marijuana stores or allow fewer than permitted under state law. In comparison, medical marijuana dispensaries currently must secure local support before they can acquire licenses.

Cities and towns could impose restrictions deemed “reasonable” as well as a municipality-based sales tax of up to 2 percent. Any local tax would be on top of a 3.75 state excise tax to fund the Cannabis Control Commission (with excess directed to the state general fund) and the standard 6.25 percent state sales tax on goods.

Marketing could not be targeted at children. Packaging for marijuana and its products would have to be labeled, including with dosage safety information.

Supporters, including City Councilor Tito Jackson, say the measure cuts down on illegal sales, replaces a black market with a regulated business, and creates jobs. Jackson also has said the new revenue stream could lessen Boston’s reliance on property taxes. With blacks disproportionately more likely than whites to be arrested for possession and distribution, legalization also could ease some criminal justice imbalances, he said at a council hearing last month.

Opponents include Walsh, Baker and Healey, who collectively wrote a March 2016 Globe op-ed against the measure. They said it could facilitate access and encourage use among minors, impact brain development —especially in adolescents — and be a gateway drug. These officials anticipate marijuana usage would increase and that the cost of emergency medical response to cases of misuse could more than consume tax revenue generated.

Question 5: Community Preservation Act

Largely unopposed, Question 5 would implement a one percent property tax surcharge, with revenue flexibly directed toward initiatives promoting affordable housing, green space and historic preservation. The average homeowner is expected to pay an additional $24 per year, with exemptions covering low-income and low- or moderate-income senior property owner-residents, as well as the first $100,000 of taxable value on residential properties and some industrial and commercial properties. Walsh, most of the Boston City Council and many state legislators support this measure.

Elections

Two contested House representative races stand out amidst a flurry of unchallenged incumbents running for re-election.

Voters in the Eleventh Suffolk district will decide between Democratic incumbent Liz Malia and newcomer progressive independent Stephen Bedell. Malia previously told the Banner she would continue expanding access to substance abuse and mental health treatment as well as criminal justice reform efforts. Bedell highlighted plans to make municipal taxes and income fines progressive, while also taxing wealthy nonprofits in order to generate greater funding for public schools and transportation.

Residents of the Fifth Suffolk District will choose as House Rep. either incumbent Democrat Evandro Carvalho or Republican Althea Garrison, who held the position as a from 1993 to 1995.