Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Upcoming Watertown Events

There are a couple of interesting events over the next couple days here in Watertown. First, on Thursday (tomorrow), Sept 27th, the Watertown Democratic Town Committee will be meeting at 8PM in the lower hearing room of the Town Hall. Senatorial candidate and former Watertown resident Ed O'Reilly is scheduled to speak at that meeting. O'Reilly is challenging current Senator John Kerry for the 2008 Democratic nomination. I met him briefly during the unveiling of a memorial to his father, the late Watertown Fire Chief Robert O'Reilly, and I'm interested to hear why he's decided to take up such a seemingly impossible task.

On Friday, frequent guest blogger Susan Falkoff is having her campaign kickoff party. The event will be held from 7 to 9PM at the home of Barbara & Jeremy Ruskin, 140 Spring Street in Watertown. Susan is running to return to the Town Council where she served from 2004 to the end of 2005. For more information on the event, see her website, and be sure to check out her campaign blog.

On Saturday, from 10AM-4PM in Watertown's Saltonstall Park, the town will hold its annual Faire on the Square. Last year, then-gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick, fresh off of his primary victory, came and was a big hit (Kerry Healey was scheduled to attend as well, but stood the town up). This year, the Watertown Democratic Town Committee is conducting its first presidential primary straw poll at the Faire. I will be manning the booth for most of the day, so if you're attending, stop by, cast your vote, and say hello.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Weekend Baby Blogging

The Honorary Ringbearer, looking sharp.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tonight's Sawins Pond Community Meeting

Tonight I went to a presentation of the results of an initial Phase II Comprehensive Site Assessment of the Sawins and Williams Pond property located at Arlington Street and Coolidge Avenue here in Watertown. Sawins Pond is privately owned and the assessment was carried out on behalf of the property owner. Both ponds are currently contaminated and fenced off. They're filled with muck, barrels, and a lot of old rubber from the former BF Goodrich site which used the pond as a landfill. Any potential cleanup would not be financed by the town. The assessment was tasked with finding the potential sources of contaminants. Their scope was limited to PCBs, metals, petroleum products, etc, and they did not look at any biological contaminants such as human or animal waste. There were about a dozen people in attendance.

The company doing the assessment, Vineyard Engineering, took 17 sediment samples, six soil samples, surface water from five locations and groundwater from 14 onsite wells. The water in the ponds is only a few inches deep on top of several feet of muck and during the sampling, Vineyard did not get the sense that there was any current dumping going on.

Fifteen of the sediment samples had high levels of PCBs, particularly in the western part of Williams Pond, close to Elm St. There was not as much where the water's deeper, but PCBs were found in the sediment throughout both ponds. Metals found in the sediment followed the same profile as PCBs. The found higher than acceptable amounts of six metals: Cadmium, Copper, Lead, Mercury, Nickel and Zinc. EPH (petroleum) and SVOC (semi-volatiles) concentrations were found in Williams Pond and under the Arlington street culvert. Ten volatile organic compounds were also found, with acetone most prevalent (though thismay be caused by natural anaerobic fermentation processes). Gasoline leakage from motor vehicles may be a primary source of some of these compounds.

So, while the sediment seems to be extremely contaminated, the surface water was a different story. There were no PCBs detected in the surface water. This was mostly expected, as they don't tend to enter the water body very easily. Only five metals were detected in the water, with nickel the most common at low levels. A little bit of arsenic was also present, but not mre that would be expected in an urban environment. There was no apparent source of either, however. In addition, the surface water contained no petroleums, only small SVOCs at very low levels. No volatile Petroleums or Organic Compounds apart from Xylene at low levels.

The soil tests revealed no soil PCBs apart from one boring with a very small amount. There were slightly elevated levels of Beryllium, Chromium and Nickel (with no explanation). There were surprisingly low levels of Lead and Mercury in the soil, considering the high levels in the sediments. One soil sample smelled of gasoline and had high levels of VOCs. There was so much rubber on the site, it's impossible to not get any rubber in your sample, but that was outside of the scope of the project.

As for the groundwater, no PCBs were found. There were only trace levels of Arsenic and Zinc, well below the standard. Only Xylene was detected above the risk standard.

The study concluded that the North bank of Sawins Pond needs further evaluation, as does the source of Petroleum-related hydrocarbons. That may be reflective of garbage that fills the pond, or it may be runoff from the road. The representative from Vineyard noted that a likely source of the PCBs was a 1983 release of about 500 gallons of PCBs into the ponds from a nearby Boston Edison (now NStar) facility. They did a cleanup then, the levels they found after the cleanup are consistent with what we have today. In addition, in 1979, there was an oil spill in Sawins pond. There have apparently been many releases on the NStar property. NStar may be responsible for cleanup of the sediments.

I spoke briefly with the presenter after the meeting, and he noted that any such cleanup of the sediment would cost millions of dollars, and he couldn't speculate on what the end result would look like. After all, the woods around the area would have to be cleared for roads so that trucks can be loaded with the toxic muck and cart it away. He imagined two craters where the ponds once stood after all was said and done. Alternatively, they could "cap" the sediment and divert the water into culverts that would lead to the Charles River. In any event, it may take another century to return Sawins Pond back to the condition it was when a fancy hotel sat on its banks over 100 years ago.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

So This is How it Ends

I've seen enough movies to know that this can't be good:

Villagers in southern Peru were struck by a mysterious illness after a meteorite made a fiery crash to Earth in their area...

Seven policemen who went to check on the reports also became ill and had to be given oxygen before being hospitalized.
When we're all dying of some space flu, or turned into zombies, or fighting off the blob, casinos will be the least of our problems.

Rolling the Dice

Yesterday, I returned from out-of-state to find that the Governor has submitted a plan to allow three casinos in Massachusetts. I'm not particularly bothered by gambling, though I will admit that if opening a casino in the Boston area ends up closing down the Keno parlors in my neighborhood, I will not shed a tear. Anything that causes fewer discarded scratch-off tickets to end up in my driveway can't be all bad. Indeed, I think in the short term these casinos would be a boon -- there's the up-front licensing fees, the construction jobs, and once they're built, the casino jobs themselves. I'm less convinced of the ongoing revenue that the casinos would provide the state, these large companies all seem to have a way of cheating the state out of taxes, but on balance the plan the Governor has put forward is a sensible way to bring casino gambling to the state.

The bigger question is whether we even want to bring gaming to Massachusetts. A majority of residents polled usually support it (58% percent most recently). That said, I imagine that the results would be different if residents were asked whether they wanted a casino in their own town. I do think, however, that those who say that casinos would "change the character" of Massachusetts for the worse are engaging in a bit of hyperbole. A couple of resort casinos aren't going to turn Massachusetts into Nevada. Inevitably, the places that host the casinos will change, but the impact of any resorts on the state as a whole will be small. The bigger question is whether you can control the genie once it's out of the bottle.

Of course, it would be silly to ignore the social ills that seem to come hand-in-hand with casino gambling. The advantage of the resort-style casinos that the Governor is proposing is that many of the tourists coming to these resorts will take the cost of these ills and costs back home with them. That would not generally be the case if the state just, for example, let Suffolk Downs put up slot machines. The big disadvantage of a resort-style casino, however, is that the economic benefits are not generally felt in the surrounding area. A casino's interest is to keep you on their property, close to the gambling floor, and never more than a few feet away from a slot machine. If you leave the grounds to go to a neighborhood restaurant, they've lost that potential revenue. So, while a resort casino may bring more tourists to an area, the number of visitors to local businesses is likely to decrease. This is what makes me very skeptical of any plan to revitalize New Bedford with a casino.

It seems to me that if someone fritters all of their money away on gambling, it's no different than if they had maxed out all their credit cards on designer clothes, electronics, or Faberge eggs. Is sitting in front of a slot machine all day really any different than sitting in a Keno parlor (now legal) or the track (also legal) or day trading on the stock market? So, yes, while I'm sympathetic to the idea that compulsive gambling will increase if we have casinos, it seems to me that anyone with a bus pass or an Internet connection can already do all the gambling they want. Frankly, I'm more concerned about the side industries that flourish along with casinos -- loan sharking, prostitution, money laundering, and other crimes -- not to mention the inevitable corruption that accompanies large sums of money changing hands. I think the Governor is being a little naive when he says that we're going to tackle those problems better than anyone else ever has.

What bothers me is the pattern the Governor seems to be following on these big decisions. For both his casino proposal and the budget, Gov. Patrick went into seclusion for weeks and then emerged with a fully-formed policy. Sure, he sought council from legislative leaders, from advisors and commissions, etc, but I never thought that they were the "We" in "Together we can". It's worrisome to me that the Governor had more inauguration parties than public meetings on expanded gaming. In the time after his election, Patrick often talked about how he wanted to convert his grassroots organization into a vehicle for grassroots governing. One way to do that would have been to include the grassroots in his decision-making process.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Middlesex, Suffolk & Essex Primary Day

Today is the primary for the Middlesex, Suffolk & Essex Senate seat formerly held by Sen. Jarrett Barrios. The race features four Democrats competing for that position: Cambridge City Councilor Anthony Galluccio, former assistant district attorney Tim Flaherty of Cambridge, Chelsea City Councilor Paul Nowicki and Cambridge civil rights attorney Jeff Ross. For more information you can read my interview with Ross or my reports of the debate in Charlestown last month and the debate in Cambridge last week. Galluccio is seen to be the favorite by many because he's run this race twice before and should have the highest name recognition throughout the district. That said, in a low-turnout special election anything can happen.

There are no unenrolled or Republican candidates in the race, so barring a massive last-minute write-in campaign, the winner of the Democratic primary will be the next Senator from that district.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Weekend Baby Blogging


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Liveblogging the Middlesex, Suffolk & Essex Debate

I'm at Lesley University for the last debate in the race to replace former Senator Jarrett Barrios in the Middlesex, Suffolk and Essex state Senate district. The debate is sponsored by the Cambridge Democratic City Committe, and it's about to begin. The candidates are Cambridge City Councilor Anthony Galluccio, Chelsea City Councilor Paul Nowicki, Cambridge attorney Tim Flaherty and Cambridge attorney Jeff Ross. Former Mass. Attorney General Scott Harshbarger is moderating, and it looks like questions will be submitted from the floor. The election will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 11th.

The debate is in the Porter Exchange in Cambridge. Outside the building, Flaherty and Galluccio seemed to have the biggest sign presence, and with the traffic in Porter Square, they got a lot of visibility. I recognize a number of familiar Cambridge activists in the crowd, which is quickly reaching the capacity of the small auditorium.

Harshbarger kicks off the proceedings with thanks to the University and the audience and gives a few brief remarks and compliments the candidates for their committment to serve by being an elected official. He asks how each member of the audience is going to get out the vote, noting that it's not the candidates' responsibility, but that of all of us to encourage our friends and neighbors to go out to vote.

The debate will be three parts -- opening statements, candidate-to-candidate questions (personal or general), audience submitted questions. Rebuttals are not allowed unless Harshbarger deems them necessary.

Opening statements
Anthony Galluccio: First, thanks to Scott Harshbarger. Tonight is about "you being sure" about who to vote for. He's given most of his adult life to public service, elected official, coach, mentor, etc. Reflect back on his service in Cambridge. The city deserves a resident state Senator.

Tim Flaherty: Harshbarger is correct when he says the "election is about you." He's a lifelong resident of Cambridge from a family with a tradition of public service. He's also a former prosecutor and talks about his work in the Norfolk DA's office. He's worked in Govt and outside of Govt. Three priorities: Not letting Harvard overrun Alston/Brighton, fully fund promis to put 1000 officers on the street, fund life science initiative.

Paul Nowicki: Thanks to everyone. The only candidate not from Cambridge, suggests that everyone should stay home on election day (in jest). He's be honored to earn the votes of Cambridge voters. The Senate position requires someone with experience with diverse communities and diverse interests. Chelsea is the most diverse community in MA. He's been on the City Council for 15 years, president for four terms. District needs someone who can unite a diverse community.

Jeff Ross: Thanks to everyone. It's the most diverse group we've seen. We have a new opportunity for Govt to "reflect our shared values". He spent three years at the Kennedy School. He sued the Romney administration when they tried to change the RMV rules. That's the type of leadership he will provide.

Candidate Questions
Tim Flaherty to all candidates: He's been endorsed by the Globe, the Chronicle, the Somerville News, etc etc. His question, is there anything in his personal or professional life that would cause embarassment to those who endorsed him?
PN: His whole life has been about integrity and character. There's nothing anyone would be embarassed about.
JR: No. He told the Globe that if they endorsed him, it would improve the reputation of the Globe. He talked about some immigration case in Texas he helped with.
AG: He's proud of his life experience. Thanks to voters for making the campaign about issues. His life has been a "complete life experience". He's shared his successes and mistakes. His misteps have made him a stronger person and a better elected official. His life has been "far better documented" than others.

Paul Nowicki to everyone: He's not running for re-election to Chelsea City Council and will be a full-time state senator. Will wou stop practicing law if you win? Will you withdraw from the Cambridge City Council?
JR: He's an attorney in Boston, and has been working full time on this race and his practice is running itself. He will continue to be involved in the practice, but he will be a full-time state Senator. He's been very engaged as a lawyer, so he has time to do these things.
AG: He will not hold two jobs. He will fill out the rest of his City Council term, but if elected to the senate, will not accept a nomination to another term on the City Council.
TF: He hasn't made any business decision. "Practicing law isn't a profession, it's who you become. It's how you live your live." All of his time will be consumed by the Senate. If there's time left over, he'd like to practice law, but if he can't he won't.

Jeff Ross to everyone: Casinos. He'd vote no if there was a vote today and he was a Senator. Do the other candidate support it?
AG: No. He is not supported by gambling interests. The jury's not out on this issue. He has no opposition, but he's not a supporter. The "where, when and how" have to be looked at. He'd work with the admin to find the real cost/benefits. He will watch it very closely, but is not currently a supporter.
TF: Comes at the issue from a law enforcement background. He knows about the dangers of gambling. He belives that gambling is coming to Massachusetts eventually. How do we be smart about it? How to we minimize the social harms and maximize the benefits? Need education and traffic studies. Need to link revenues to education.
PN: Chelsea has been the "hotbed" of economic development. He says "yes" until negative impact has been proven. He doesn't gamble. He says it will bring jobs, improve capital assets. This is one way to relieve burden on taxpayers.

Anthony Galluccio to everyone: Today he met with biotech leaders. He's called for a forum in each community to support after-school education with young people and families. How would you get to know young people across this district?
TF: he's knocked on doors all across the district. In Charlestown, he said he'd get the drugs out of Charlestown. There's not a single treatment bed available in Charlestown, he'll change that if he's elected.
PN: He's already invested in the public school system. He has two kids in public schools. That will be a focus for him. He's in favor of extended school days. He's done work with community-based after school programs in Chelsea. He's been a youth volunteer adn a sports coordinator in Chelsea.
JR: He was in Bellingham Square in Chelsea, and he saw the promise of the future in the kids crossing the street who came up to him. He wrote a letter to the lege for overrides of funding line-item vetos. Towns and cities need resources for after-school programs.

Audience Questions
Q: Follow-up on casino gambling. How many believe they are supported by people who support casino gambling? Why has each independent study shown that in Massachusetts there are no benefits?
PN: No casino interests have donated to his campaign. Rep. Bosley says we will lose our historical and educational character. He doesn't believe that. We have to know the answers to how many police officers we need, how much traffic we can expect. We need to knoew the answers to this.
JR: He will be an independent voice. He doesn't owe any political favors. In 1971, the lottery was supposed to bring money back to cities and towns, but that didn't happen. He doesn't support casinos and is not supported by casino intersts.
AG: He's more interested in seeing the life sciences expand, working on literacy, etc. He's upset about the focus on hot-button issues. Casino gambling is not a priority, housing, education are priorites.
TF: He doesn't have any casino entities supporting him. He's raised some money, but there isn't anyone who can contribute $500 that will change his mind about anything. he doesn't need this job. He's happy with who he is, but he wants the job so he can impact the state in a positive way. We need to be smart now to protect our interests and prevent harm. He'll be beholden to no one.

Q: Education reform. What changes need to be made? What is wrong with MCAS for urban public education? How does change further provide quality education?

JR: He has two kids in the public school system. They lose interest in repetitive MCAS studying. We need to value teachers. Doesn't support ending MCAS. It has good points, students who score highly get scholarships. He supports giving incentives to teachers for after school programs.
AG: Having chaired a school committee, he's come a long way from supporting MCAS. It should not be the sole criterion. A standardized test is not the answer. How far has a student advanced over the course of a year? Those are the types of evaulations we should be looking at.
TF: MCAS is a good minimum standard. It's not the way to measure a child. Curriculum directed toward passing a test is not the way to educate a child. People on Brattle street and in Charlestown care about the same things. People in urban districts love the MCAS.
PN: MCAS should not be the sole provider. Administrators, educators should be held accountable. People who are in the school system have an advantage over transitional students who come in mid-year.

Q: Would you favor moving the cap for charter schools? How would you address inequities in the charter school funding formula. Is the agenda dictated too much by the teachers unions?

AG: One of my faults is my honesty with interest groups -- this cost him endorsements. He's not in support of extension of charter schools. He wants to see energy spent improving public schools. He'll be honest with you.
TF: Charter schools are problematic because the dollars leave the public schools. If a private company comes, they can run a for-profit school. Where are the overages going? They're public dollars.
PN: We should keep the cap until we figure out the funding system. They should be a seperate line item. Teachers should be held to the same standard as public schools. there should be open information. What does well in each school, they should share information? It's about improving education for all children, regardless of public or charter school.
JR: This is a question that effects real families. He's met a family with children in both types of schools. There should be a moratrium on charter schools. We should continue to reinvest in public schools.

Q: We spend more money on corrections than public education. How would you make the choice between these two? How would we raise revenue?

TF: When he ran for DA, he opposed capital punishment and mandatory mimums for drug offenses. Dollars should be spent on diversion, full day kindergarten, after school. We need to spend money on education to catch problems before they occur. If he's elected, the first thing he's going to do is fund a study commission to see how much it costs educate a student in Massachusetts.
PN: We need to close corp. loopholes. We need to look at gambling. We should have local options for meals & hotels. In Chelsea, the community was on fire, under siege by gangs. They put more cops on the street, firefighters, hazmat. They reduced homeowners insurance. They focused on alcohol & drug rehab, etc.
JR: We need to increase funding for higher ed. We should create a muni. bond for stem cell research. We need to look at the root of crime and reduce it at the begining. 85% of people who are released are repeat offenders and drug abusers. if we create a broader approach, we can reduce the burden on prisons.
AG: Crime is a local issue. health care is a local issue, affordable housing, etc. We have a responsibility to support young people in our communites. A state senator should get to know the young people of the community. he will intercede on behalf of at-risk young people.

Q: The last two state senators had "contrasting styles". What is going to be your style? Which of these two would you emulate most?

PN: He's not one to draw attention to himself. He's a street worker. He sits with people, solves problems with community input. He'll have community advisory groups made up of residents. He will be in the communities day-in and day-out.
JR: Both Senators have brought unique styles. he will be an independent voice and create a more inclusive legislative process. He speaks four languages so he can serve the entire district.
AG: He's going to be just like Jarrett. He'll be a liberal in Cambridge, and be "Italian as hell" in Everett. There's only one candidate endorsed by papers in Everett and by the Mass Alliance.
TF: He will emulate the best of each of them. They were both committed. He hopes to emulate someone like Alice Wolf (who is present) or Tip O'Neil. That's what the Boston Globe was saying when they endorsed him.

Q: You have focused on programs, but some of you have rejected casino gambling. How will you find the revenue? What positions will you take on increasing taxes in interest of progams you support.
JR: We need to close corporate loopholes, like the telecom loophole. We need to look at ways for communities to raise their own sales and meals taxes. Would support raising the income tax on high-income individuals.
AG: there are families in this district who are very nervous about tax increases, on fixed incomes, etc. Mass. does not have a progressive real estate tax structure. We have to address those on fixed incomes. We can do that if we stand up to wealthy intersts.
TF: He would begin the argument about a progressive income tax. There are people who are impoverished. People in Everett are concerned about taxes. He'd close the telecom loophole.
PN: He would support closing the loopholes, it would give us about half a billion dollars. He need more economic development -- set higher environmental standards. Job training programs in exchange for tax breaks. When you hire, people should come from the community.

Q: Businesses feel like they do not get a fair shake in Massachusetts. Our Universities in particular. How do you see the expansion of Harvard into Allston?

AG: As co-chair of the Riverside development committee, he got consessions from Harvard. There is a way to put Harvard's feet to the fire and to link Allston to the University. He's the only candidate who has experience doing this.
TF: With all due respect to Harvard, he's not worried about their future. They're paying the City of Cambridge very little. People aren't opposed to Harvard, they just want to save their neighborhood. Hopefully the University will understand they can coexist.
PN: He has 15 years experience dealing with urban development in densely populated areas. He takes credit for building 15,000 units of housing in Chelsea. He would work to stop the expansion until the concerns of the neighbors are met.
JR: The neighborhood is not opposed to the expansion, but opposed to the procedure that the University has not been following. The University violated the trust of the community. They need to follow the proper procedures.

Closing Statements
AG: Good speeches don't get things done in Government. He helped create the best affordable housing program in the state. They made literacy a priority. that happened through tenacious advocacy. This is everything he's ever done in his life. It would be an honor to represent Cambridge in the Senate.
TF: This is about your communities, your future. The protagonist in the Greek tragedy that is American politics is you.
PN: Integrity, courage does matter. You want a leader who rebuilt a community from the ground up. He was a leader in restoring Chelsea from where it couldn't get any lower to someplace good for families.
JR: Elections are about choices. He's running for the people of the district who have problems. He'll be there for you.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Who Won Where?

The Boston Globe has a list of the Fifth District election results by city and town, and I thought it might be instructive to see what that looked like on a map:

The results make sense. Barry Finegold won his hometown of Andover, and Jim Miceli won Tewksbury, which he represents. Jamie Eldridge won a group of small towns that overlap with his state rep. district. Eileen Donoghue won Lowell and the surrounding towns, including Methuen where she had the support of Sen. Steven Baddour (D-Methuen). Niki Tsongas was able to take the primary by racking up victories in Lawrence, Haverhill and Concord and coming in second in almost every community she didn't win (except Boxborough).

The general election for the seat will be October 16th, where Tsongas will face Republican Jim Ogonowski and three third-party and independent candidates. Tsongas will likely be the heavy favorite in that contest give the district's typical Democratic swing in Federal elections. Given that, it will be interesting to see how much the national parties get involved. Neither, I'm sure, wants to spend much money on a sure-win or a sure-lossm, and in particular Ogonowski must be careful that he doesn't get too heavily linked with President Bush or the national Republicans, neither of which are particularly popular in Massachusetts as a whole or the Fifth District in particular.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Niki Tsongas Wins MA-05 Dem. Primary

The results are in and Niki Tsongas, widow of former Senator Paul Tsongas, has won the special election to replace former Congressman Marty Meehan. Tsongas managed to hold on despite a late surge from Eileen Donoghue, who closed what had been a double-digit gap in the polls to just five points on primary day. Here are the results from the Boston Globe.

What's interesting to me how close the actual results were to the most recent SUSA poll, despite all the disclaimers that polling for a day-after Labor Day primary would be mostly meaningless. Here they are lined up:

 9/4 Result8/30 Poll
Niki Tsongas36%40%
Eileen Donoghue31%29%
Jamie Eldridge14%15%
Barry Finegold13%9%
Jim Miceli6%3%

Every candidate was within four points of where they polled, and they finished in the predicted order.

Primary Day in MA-05

Today is primary election day for the Fifth Congressional district. There are two certainties today: one, that turnout will be very small, and two that Jim Ogonowski will win the Republican primary against challenger Tom Tierney.

Regular readers of this blog (if there are any left after my unscheduled two-week hiatus) will know that the real race is in the Democratic primary, where recent polls show Niki Tsongas with a healthy, but shrinking lead over Lowell City Councilor Eileen Donoghue, with the rest of the field a distant third, fourth and fifth. The low turnout, however, would seem to work against the frontrunner Tsongas if her opponents' supporters are more motivated to come out. Presumably, every supporter of another candidate has been contacted by one of the campaigns or is at least interested enough to follow the race. The same cannot necessarily be said of those who support the candidate with the highest name recognition. I expect, though, that Tsongas will will today's election, but perhaps by a smaller margin than predicted.

Update: Dick Howe has some preliminary information about turnout, and the unsurprising consensus is that it's going to be low. The city of Haverhill reported a total of eight absentee ballots!