With the special election preliminary for the District 1 City Council seat less than a month away, the two candidates vying for the seat squared off in a candidates forum Monday night.
Sponsored by the Environmental Justice League of Massachusetts, Pueblo and GreenRoots, Gabriela Coletta and Tania Del Rio fielded questions in the hour-long forum.
Each candidate was asked a few questions by the hosts and some from the audience. One question that stood out during the forum was when each candidate was asked what they could do to increase voter turnout of marginalized residents in municipal elections.
First up to answer the question was Del Rio.
“First I want to thank the people already doing this work, specifically NUBE (Neighbors United for a Better East Boston) who has been doing this for years, who has noticed this issue and has done tireless work around this issue,” said Del Rio. “I remember back in March for International Women’s Day, so many women were coming up to me and saying, “Wow, look,NUBE brought us a flower and they told us about the election and wished us happy International Women’s Day. That means a lot to people and that brings information to people in a creative way and meets them where they’re at. That’s good and that’s what we need to be doing.”
Del Rio said she was recently part of a small group that would meet regularly for coffee and wine and discuss politics and community issues.
“That was something that brought information to people,” said Del Rio. “I recently heard this term “information and justice”. I’d never heard that term but it is completely true, because a lot of people in our communities are entitled to local government resources and benefits that are for them, but they don’t access them because they don’t know about them. For me, that’s one of the things that we need to be working on right now is how to make sure that the information arrives.”
Del Rio added that as City Councilor she’d be looking to pass an ordinance that asks the elections department to do a better job around letting people know about elections because.
Ten percent turnout for such important elections is appalling,” said Del Rio. “So I want to see the elections department officially registering voters, or pre-registering voters, at every BPS High School graduation and at every naturalization ceremony that happens in the city of Boston.”
Next, Coletta also praised NUBE’s efforts to increase voter turnout.
“They’re going door to door and really doing the sweat equity that is necessary to let folks know that democracy is happening around them and they need to be involved and their voices need to be heard,” said Coletta. “I do support same day registration and early voting. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is so far behind other states and we’re a progressive state. It doesn’t make any sense. So I just think it’s irresponsible to not have automatic same day registration with the technological abilities at our disposal. As we all know, there’s an assault on voting rights in many states and congressional failure. I think that we are in a moment of urgency to advance the expansion of voting rights, while also protecting the sanctity of voting data, as there is an increasing assault on our democracy.”
Coletta said Massachusetts has a long way to go and there’s still work that needs to be done.
“I want to make permanent the pandemic era changes that allowed for mail in ballots,” she said. “As City Councilor I would push the Secretary of the Commonwealth with my council colleagues, to do what needs to be done (to increase voter participation). In addition, with my state and federal partners, I would fight to expand voting rights to include same day registration, early voting, mail in ballots and publicly denounce any opposition to these vital reforms.”