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May 22, 2018

When I stopped by the the town election polls on May 22nd, there was ample opportunity to visit with each of the election officials and checkers – people I only see at elections but have known for years. The election turnout was dismal. No lines. The day was long and only 1164 voters out of 10,295 registered voters cast ballots (11%) – even though there was a Prop 2 1/2 debt exclusion on the ballot.

Such issues generally bring people out in droves but the Water Treatment Plant that was on the ballot was not controversial, and some people thought that the Town Meeting approval had already guaranteed it would be built (which was not accurate). Anyway, this slow day made me nostalgic for the 1970s when Holliston was abuzz with political activity.

The Democrats and Republicans both had very active and very visible Town Committees. These committees were and are today elected by local Party people to work in support of candidates for the State Party. These are the people most likely to serve as delegates to the respective State Conventions and cast votes on Party Platforms and statewide candidates to endorse. In addition, to those political groups, the ’70s brought the League of Women Voters to town, and they were an active and well-organized group. They really got everyone engaged!

Political discussions were far more common in coffee shops, on the street, and in the local newspaper – local, state and national issues. People were interested in sharing opinions – debating – even arguing; but we all remained friendly and civil.

Alas, discussion is in the shadows now – people seem unwilling to participate in a give and take of ideas. I read zings and jabs on Holliston Crabby and Holliston Rants pages on Facebook, but that’s different. That’s not a conversation. In fact, in my opinion, that approach discourages discussion. We used to be able to talk face-to-face, heatedly debate, have coffee, ask about each other’s lives and go home feeling like we were part of a community. I miss that.

Town Election 1970

The candidates for Selectman were Jerry Kiley and George DeCristoforo. It was a vigorous campaign between the new, young guy and the mature long-time resident, respectively. At the end of the count – all on paper ballots – Kiley bested DeCristoforo by just 11 votes. But George was not one to just give up. He asked for a recount, and the outcome was a complete overturn and a three vote victory for DeCristoforo.

While waiting for the recount, Kiley was sworn-in and attended a couple of Selectmen’s meetings. In those days, Selectmen earned a $500 stipend (chairman received $600). Jerry’s town check for $19.89 hung on his office wall for years. He regularly teased Betty Bustin, the Town Treasurer, that the budget must be out of balance as a result.

State Rep Races…a little levity, please

This photo of Jim Poitras dressed in a barrel and Henry Dellicker in a sandwich-sign date back to August 1970 when the Holliston Republican Town Committee was urging local residents to register to vote in time for the upcoming state elections. Over 400 people did so. We had picnics and dances and special activities all year long. It was a social group as well as a political one.

Nationally recognized clockmaker John Losch was the local candidate that year – shown here in the “wanted poster.” His handlebar mustache was a perfect “brand” for his successful reelection campaign in November 1970.

When John first ran in 1968, Holliston was in a new district and for the first time, we were the “big” town. Prior to ’68, our district included 10 precincts in Framingham, and their candidates dominated in any contest. John ran and won. Since then all our State Representatives have been from Holliston, i.e. Barbara Gardner (D), Paul Loscocco (R), and Carolyn Dykema (D).

In 1972, John chose not to run, and so this guy did…

This is Andrew Natsios who lost in the Republican primary in ’72, at the age of 22, but won in 1974. His physical appearance lent itself to caricature and local artist Jaci Pounds drew this one. His campaign used it to add an element of levity to a candidate who was very serious.

Here’s a recent photo of Natsios from WikiPedia. He’d have to whiten the hair on the bumper sticker but that’s about it!

Natsios went on to a long career in state and federal government and international affairs, and served as the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under President George W. Bush. Today he is an Executive Professor at the Bush School and Director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at Texas A & M.

No Foreign Meddling Here

Imagine this – the old stonewalled basement at Town Hall painted deep red, asbestos covered pipes overhead, dozens of card tables and chairs jammed together for ballot counting after every election. Everything was manual, paper and pencil, and the counts could go long into the night and early morning. No Town Clerk wanted a mistake discovered on his or her watch, and this system was impenetrable to interference by any outside power!

It took many hands – especially during November elections. The ballots were sorted into lots of 50. One person would read from the ballot and another would track tallies by fives on paper. Once the individual lots were counted, it took quite a while for the Town Clerk and other election officials to add all the numbers up by office using old, loud adding machines. Heaven forbid that the number of tallies didn’t match the total vote count in the end. If there was a problem, another team would repeat the process to find the mistake(s) in a lot or lots. On close races, well suffice it to say, it could be an all-nighter.

These times could be very exciting if you were anxious for the outcome of a race. Candidates and supporters would hang around Town Hall, talking, laughing, waiting for results. It was a fun time. This was “small town America” at its most quaint for me. I came from a city where there were machines with levers! Quaint. Many of the people I counted votes with in those days are among those I see on election day today!

Can you read this?

This polling box (left) sits in the Town Clerk’s office today. The lid is open here and inside the box are hundreds of small pieces of printed card stock. Before a person was allowed to vote, s/he had to read the text aloud to prove literacy. This process was used into the 1960’s right here in Hollyrock! This is a sample taken from the box. It’s a reminder that voting wasn’t always a given. Funny what we take for granted.

Can We Talk?

As a “middle-of- the-road, un-enrolled voter,” I don’t think we are doing enough to really listen and talk about political issues right here in Holliston, let alone in Washington or Boston. I wish for real conversations … not rehashed platitudes. If any readers are interested in participating in thoughtful and civil, moderated conversations about the many issues we face today, please let me know. Let’s at least TRY.

I’m tossing the gauntlet down…are you ready to engage in conversations about local, state and national political issues with your neighbors and fellow Hollistonians…or not?


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