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Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I register to vote in Townsend?

    To register to vote in Townsend, a person must be

    • at least 18 years of age
    • a citizen of the United States, by birth or naturalization
    • a resident of Townsend
    • never convicted of a felony

    Many people in Massachusetts register to vote while obtaining a driver's license. Otherwise, you can register at the office of the town clerk (in Memorial Hall), or you can register by mailing in a paper form, which you can pick up at the town library.

    The deadline for registering to vote usually is 20 days prior to election day.



  • Why should I declare a political party when I register to vote?

    By choosing a political party, you are demonstrating your support for a set of people and a set of ideas. Politics is a team sport. If you want to really be in the game, you've got to choose a side.


  • What is a political party, anyway?

    In the general sense, a political party is an organized group that seeks to attain and maintain political power within government, usually by participating in electoral campaigns. The party may also engage in other activities, but elections are normally the focus.

    Most parties come together around some set of ideas or concerns, or may form as a coalition of smaller groups which share similar ideas.

    Today's modern Republican Party began in 1854 as a coalition, when various members of the Whig party and the Free Soil Party, plus some disenchanted Democrats, came together to form a new party which would oppose slavery in the United States. In 1860, the new party succeeded in electing Abraham Lincoln as the first Republican president.


  • What if I don't want to be either a Republican or a Democrat? Can I join some other party?

    At the present time, about half of all voters in Massachusetts are registered without declaring association with any political party. Such voters are formally known as unenrolled voters.

    Since the Civil War, various so-called "third parties" have had varying levels of success, although none has been consistently competitive. During the past decade, the Green-Rainbow Party and the Constitution Party have become active in some communities in Massachusetts, while, down in Cambridge, you can still find outright Socialists commemorating Eugene V. Debs. Also, the Libertarian Party has attracted a following.

    (Should "unenrolled" voters be called "independent"? Using that word in formal communication can be something of a problem, since there are several organized political groups which call themselves "independent parties". In some states there is the "American Independent" Party. Scattered through New England, the "American Independence" Party has some adherents. In 2014, candidate Evan Falchuk formed the "United Independent" Party. Between talking about members of one of the several "independent" parties or talking about voters who are truly independent of any party, confusion can easily arise, so Massachusetts election officials prefer to use the term "unenrolled".)


  • Why bother with political parties? Why can't each candidate run for office on his or her own individual merits?

    The idea of simply not having political parties in government always seems attractive. Over the years, many methods of avoiding parties have been attempted, even laws which make party affiliation illegal. However, in real life and in real governments, different interests always arise, which leads to groups of people congealing into factions of one kind or another. Over time, in the natural course of events, the factions solidify into organized parties.

    Also, being an effective public leader requires cooperation with other officials to get things done, and an office-holder who belongs to a party has a ready-made set of allies with whom to work.

    (The most successful non-party candidate for high office in recent years was Jesse Ventura, the former professional wrestler who was elected governor of Minnesota in 1998 as an "Independent/Reform" candidate. Despite the enthusiastic support with which he began his term, Governor Ventura had no natural allies in the state legislature. So, when an economic slowdown squeezed the state's budget, the governor's plans were squeezed out. As he served out his term in increasing frustration and disarray, public approval of the independent governor plummeted. Thus, in the 2002 election, Minnesotans turned to Republican Tim Pawlenty as their next governor.)


  • Who makes the rules about how political parties operate?

    Many of the rules of how political parties work in Massachusetts are part of state law, enacted by the state legislature and signed by the Governor. The party committees at the state and local levels are run in accordance with these laws. Other rules are taken from various authorities on parliamentary procedure. And, from its heritage as a former colony of Great Britain, Massachusetts inherited many forms and customs from the long tradition of government in the mother country.



  • What exactly is a "republic"? Does that have something to do with the "Republican" party's name?

    The English word "republic" comes from the Latin phrase res publica, which means "the people's thing". In the image here of an ancient coin from the Roman Republic, a citizen is shown voting for L. Cassius Longinus Ravilla in the plebiscite election of 113 B.C. (Although its institutions stayed in place for nearly 500 years, the Roman Republic suffered a long decay, and it effectively ceased to exist following the assassination of Julius Caesar on March 15, 44 B.C.)


    As typically used, the word "republic" refers to a form of government in which citizens elect representatives to perform the activities of governing. This differs from pure "democracy", in which the citizens themselves all vote directly. (Many small towns in New England still conduct an annual exercise in nearly pure democracy: the traditional "open town meeting".)

    At the national level, all parties work within the structure defined by the U.S. Constitution, which is a form of representative, or "republican", government.

    When it organized in 1854, the new anti-slavery coalition took for itself the name "Republican Party"—a historic moniker which, ironically, had once been used for the party we now know as the "Democratic Party". (Sad to say, some political writers today seem to invite confusion on this point, as when this Boston Globe article accused "Republicans" of starting the War of 1812—which happened 42 years before today's Party of Lincoln was founded!)


  • Why is the Republican Party called the "GOP"?

    This abbreviation, which newspaper-headline writers find so useful, is usually taken to mean "Grand Old Party", a nickname which was first published in 1876.


  • What's the deal with elephants?

    The elephant was first used as a symbol of the Republican Party by political cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1874. There are various theories concerning the source of Nast's inspiration, but Republicans appreciate the fact that elephants are strong, highly intelligent, and loyal animals.


  • Why is the Republican Party called a "right wing" party?

    The terms "right wing" and "left wing" came from revolutionary fervor in 18th century France: back in 1789, when the French National Assembly was first convened, the nobles and barons got to sit on the right (and were called the côté droit), whereas the partisans demanding change sat on the left, and became the côté gauche. (When the French Revolution came, the left wing made sure that the right wing lost, not only their seats, but their heads, too.)

    In modern parlance, and generally speaking (which is all we have room to do in a FAQ page), people on the "right" side of politics take some set of "conservative" views on a variety of issues. The unique history of the United States means that political beliefs called "conservative" in America are rather different from "conservative" political positions in other nations.

    However, trying to evaluate all views and ideas along a single line from left to right will always over-simplify matters, because public issues in the real world are always complex and multi-dimensional. This is one reason that, among conservatives, there are many differences in opinions on specific issues. Thus not all Republicans are obviously "right wing" on all issues, although most adherents of the GOP empathize with at least some conservative positions.


  • Why are Republicans red and Democrats blue?

    This widely recognized color code is of relatively recent origin. It was not until the 2000 presidential campaign that permanent associations of red and blue were made. During October 2000, on a TV broadcast of NBC's Today show, Matt Lauer and the late Tim Russert were discussing an on-screen graphic map depicting some electoral-vote projections. Speaking of the states where voter polls were trending Republican, Russert and Lauer repeatedly used the phrase "Red State", and a lexical meme was born.

    (The image here shows Tim Russert discussing the map with NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw.)



  • I saw a TV show where some loud-talking guy said, "All Republicans are reptilian henchmen for greedy tycoons." Is that true?

    Many celebrities on TV say outrageous things loudly because it attracts a lot of people to watch their shows. You should keep in mind the following fact: from the point of view of a TV network (which is a big corporation), the chief purpose of any TV program is merely to hold your attention for the commercials!

    Better to meet some actual Republicans and find out for yourself what they are really saying and doing!



  • What is the real Republican record on race relations?

    The first point to keep in mind was mentioned above: the Republican Party was founded to bring freedom to slaves in America. For a discussion of issues which arose later, and of certain frequently misunderstood points, see The Myth of the Racist Republicans from the Claremont Institute and The Party of Civil Rights by Kevin Williamson. Another source of information on this topic is the National Black Republican Association.

    The photo shows Martin Luther King holding a friendly conversation with two women; the one on the right was Lenore Romney. At the time, 1963, her Republican husband George was serving as governor of Michigan. Years later, her Republican son Mitt Romney became Governor of Massachusetts and then a candidate for President of the United States.

    During the 2008 campaign, eyewitness accounts (reported here by Politico.com) confirmed that George Romney (Mitt's father) had marched in a civil-rights demonstration together with Martin Luther King in 1963.



  • My Democrat friend tells me that the Republican Party started out good, but today supports evil policies because it “switched sides”.

    This claim of “switching sides” may get trotted out after an informed observer has pointed out the many awkward incidents in the history of the Democratic Party. If examined carefully, the claim produces a multitude of contradictions. One thorough examination was performed by Matthew Bowman, in a guest posting in the blog of science-fiction/fantasy writer Sarah A. Hoyt.


  • I'm still wondering what happened in the 2000 presidential election.

    The events of 2000 ignited a hot controversy which still inflames passions to such a degree that reasoned discussion can be difficult. However, any discussion should take into account the findings of the election study sponsored by USA Today, the Miami Herald and the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, which came to the following conclusion:

    George W. Bush would have won a hand count of Florida's disputed ballots if the standard advocated by Al Gore had been used, the first full study of the ballots reveals. Bush would have won by 1,665 votes — more than triple his official 537-vote margin — if every dimple, hanging chad, and mark on the ballot had been counted as votes.


  • Why did I never hear about that USA Today study?

    The article cited above appeared in USA Today and other outlets on May 5, 2001, but the subsequent media silence concerning the report's publication is curious.

    Another point of media silence concerning Election Day 2000 in Florida is that an action by the three major TV networks had the effect of suppressing the vote in the state's 10 western “panhandle” counties (where support for Bush was strong); they announced at 7:00 p.m Eastern time that all polling places in Florida had closed. However, those panhandle counties are in the Central time zone, thus polls in those counties were scheduled to be open for another hour.




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