The Select Board at its meeting Thursday night approved the warrant for the Nov. 13 Special Town Meeting, where electronic voting will be implemented for the first time.
Town Clerk Connor Degan addressed the joint meeting of the Select Board and the School Committee regarding electronic voting at the upcoming STM. The article that is expected to draw the most attendees will be on the proposed new school building to replace Elmwood.
Degan had introduced the idea of potentially using an electronic clicker voting system at the last Select Board meeting. The estimated cost for renting the clickers is $14,500.
“This is a method that is very effective and tried and true,” he explained, noting that it is used by the U.S. House of Representatives as well as cities and towns throughout the state.
He added that it is a secure system that is “simple to use for the voter.” Degan got to see an electronic voting system in action at Natick’s Fall Town Meeting last week.
Voters will receive a clicker and a lanyard when they check in. There is a window of time during which voters can cast their vote, and they can change their minds up until that time frame closes and their last vote is counted.
Meridia has supplied the country with electronic voting systems since 1970. A company representative explained that there are only three colored buttons to use for a yes vote, for a no vote or to abstain.
He added that some advantages to electronic voting are that it speeds up the process and allows for anonymity. Vote counts are clear and virtually instantaneous. Attendance tends to increase as well. To prevent herd mentality, the direction of the voting is not shown — only the final result.
An example Degan gave where electronic voting would have been helpful was at the last Town Meeting during a two-thirds majority vote situation.
“A voice vote was close,” he said. “The moderator can declare it, but it was an uncomfortable situation. … This would avoid the frustration voters get when we really should bet a solid count on this vote.”
Member Amy Ritterbusch asked if an amendment to an article can be added on the floor and was told that it can. Once the amendment passes, the new article will go forward as amended.
Select Board chair Muriel Kramer stressed that voters should arrive early so that they can familiarize themselves with the clickers. She said she expects a higher than usual turnout.
Vice chair Shahidul Mannan asked if there was a contingency plan. Degan said a standing vote could be used if there is a failure. Counters will be assigned at the discretion of the moderator. Technical assistance will be offered as well.
School Committee member and Commission on Disability chair Holly Morand questioned if there would be assistance available for people with accessibility issues to ensure equal access. Degan said that if reasonable accommodation requests are made in advance, Braille clickers can be ordered. The deadline to request any accommodations is Nov. 10, but Kramer stressed to make them “sooner rather than later.”
Town Manager Norman Khumalo said open office hours will be scheduled at Town Hall for anyone who has questions about electronic voting. The deadline to register to vote for the STM is Nov. 3, and the Town Clerk’s office will remain open until 5 p.m.
Said Degan: “We want people to feel confident that this works as a method of increasing attendance and increasing the productivity of the meeting.”
STM articles approved
The Select Board unanimously approved four articles for the STM. The first is on the Elmwood School building replacement project. The second one is to approve a legislative petition to eliminate political caucuses and remove printed political affiliation for town-elected officers from local election ballots. The third is to adopt a municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code. The fourth is in regard to purchasing land for municipal parking in the vicinity of Town Hall.
An article regarding open space acquisition was removed in a unanimous vote.