Tristan LaLiberte wants YOU to vote, and not just because his name is on the ballot. The UMass Amherst Political Science major just finished off his sophomore year with a successful campaign for town selectman in his hometown of Auburn, Massachusetts, and he’s hoping to lead by example in getting other young voters involved too.
“I decided to go for it,” Laliberte says of his decision to run, “if for nothing else than to try to get more people my age involved. I figured if people see someone really young getting involved, they’ll pay more attention to it.”
The 2016 presidential election highlighted, perhaps more than ever before, the differences between younger voters and their older counterparts, and the impact young voters could have on election results. But you don’t have to wait for Decision 2020 to get involved. In fact, according to Auburn’s youngest selectman, the best place to start is in your own backyard. His senior year of high school, the future selectman began paying attention to local politics, and even got involved in that year’s town clerk campaign. “I’ve always been interested in politics at the state and federal levels, but I really didn’t have any idea what was going on in my own town, so I decided to get involved in one of the races,” he says.
The experience proved to be a rewarding one, and the town clerk candidate was ultimately the one to encourage the ambitious high schooler to launch his own campaign. His freshman year at UMass, LaLiberte began his first campaign for selectman, and from the beginning, getting young people involved was a top priority. “The first time that I ran, I went to the AP Government and History students at Auburn High and talked to them about local politics—how the town runs and what happens at town meetings, the selectmen and what they control, the town manager and town clerk—all of that, to try to get them involved.”
Although LaLiberte didn’t take home a win the first time around, his efforts with the local students didn’t go to waste. “One student actually ran for town meeting member and he’s a town meeting member now, so that was pretty cool, and that’s why I wanted to get involved initially.”
The first race was close, and the next year LaLiberte was determined to put his experience from the past election to the test once again. “After I ran the first year, I had started talking to so many people in town and going door to door, and I started to see some of the things that people were complaining about and some of the things that could be changed or worked on, so I decided to run again.”
While getting Auburn’s youth involved was always a top priority, one-on-one interactions with voters young and old remained a necessity throughout both campaigns. “We were knocking on so many doors both the first year and the second year, and that was definitely one of the biggest contributing factors to the win. And we had to do it, because no one knew who I was starting out, so we had to actually go door to door to tell people who was running and get them familiar with the name.”
Once LaLiberte had laid the groundwork during his first campaign, his next run was all about continuing to build those relationships, and it turns out the value of face time should never be underestimated. “I talked to one guy who really appreciated that I came to his door. He listened to me talk and then said, ‘I really appreciate when people actually put in the work and go door to door, honestly if no one else comes to my door, you’ve already got my vote just for doing that,’” LaLiberte recalls.
Of course, such a young candidate was bound to raise a few eyebrows. “I think some people were really shocked the first year that someone so young was getting involved and trying to go for it. Someone so young really doesn’t have their name around town as well as the other two candidates who had lived in town forever and knew so many people,” he says.
For the most part, however, people were receptive of a younger voice emerging in Auburn town politics, and LaLiberte launched his second campaign with the endorsement of none other than his former opponent. “The year that I lost, actually, I lost to Lionel Berthiaume, and he pretty much endorsed me the second year that I ran. I think he really convinced a lot of people that voted for him to vote for me the second time around.”
Now that LaLiberte is officially Auburn’s newest—and youngest—member of the Board of Selectmen, he wants to continue the work he started on the campaign. Of his goals for his term, LaLiberte maintains that the most important one is the one he started out with, which is to try to get people in high school and college to actually realize how important local politics are.
One of the biggest issues that could use some input from younger voices is the town’s ongoing debate regarding marijuana legalization. In May, the town passed an eighteen-month moratorium on recreational marijuana facilities. A few weeks later, voters at the same annual election during which LaLiberte was elected decided to ban commercial marijuana facilities from the town.
One of LaLiberte’s goals in office is to reverse this stigma against marijuana, something he knows he’ll need the help of other young voices to accomplish. “That one is going to be a bigger challenge,” he says. “If you look at the demographics from the local elections, it’s just older people that are showing up to vote, so the people that are more likely to oppose recreational marijuana are coming out in large numbers and voting against it, but I don’t know if that accurately represents the town’s opinion. I’d like to see what we can do to better represent that.”
As far as future political ambitions go, LaLiberte is taking things one term at a time, and law school is the next big goal on the horizon. Whether or not the future holds another term in public office, however, LaLiberte will always have an interest in encouraging young people to get involved. “I plan to go back to Auburn High every year and talk to students about Auburn politics and how to get involved. I mean, there’s a local election every year, and you don’t have to be running to get involved. I want to keep pushing that and see what we can do at the town level to try to involve them more.”