Town Meeting alibis


It’s almost time for that biannual funfest known as Town Meeting, so start dusting off your excuses now.

“Nobody told me about it.”

“I have to work that day.”

“I have kids.”

Wow, with extenuating circumstances like those, it’s a wonder anyone ever shows up.

All kidding aside, nobody gives a rodent’s hindquarters whether you show up or not, least of all me. The only reason the excuses come up at all is because somebody complains about something that resulted from a Town Meeting action.

Then someone else (like me) asks the obvious question: Which way did you vote when this came up at Town Meeting?

You know the responses (see above).

Seriously, I’ve come to feel the same way about Town Meeting attendance as I do about voting in elections: When it comes to voters, more is not necessarily better. Not if it means more clueless voters.

Same with Town Meeting: If you are not inclined to go, by all means, do us all a favor. Stay home. Rest assured, the childless slackers have it under control.

I’m pro-choice when it comes to Town Meeting attendance and sympathetic to those who chose not to attend. It’s the excuses that I find amusing.

I would never criticize someone who, after working all day, chooses to stay home rather than go out and listen to Town Meeting orators pontificate for three hours on this appropriation, that easement, or to see what the Town will do about it.

Similarly, if you can’t get out in the evening because you have small children at home, who am I to question that?

Just don’t tell me how very passionately you care about some issue and then claim that you’re housebound 365 nights a year.

Some say they would attend Town Meeting (or other government meetings) if they knew about them.

If only there were a newspaper or a web site or a Facebook page where these secret meetings were listed.

Oh, there is? Well, I shouldn’t be expected to pick up a newspaper or go online to find this information. It’s the 21st century, dammit, and the town should notify me (and everyone else in town) when these meetings are coming up. Information should flow to me automatically. I shouldn’t have to do anything. Oh, and don’t you dare raise my taxes to make it happen.

Others maintain that Town Meeting is outdated and we need to scrap it.

I fully understand that we live in an era where nothing that originated more than 20 minutes ago has any value. But Town Meeting has survived for a long time through all kinds of technological changes for a reason.

Some claim they don’t want to get rid of Town Meeting entirely, just bring it into the 21st century. People are busier than ever. They should be able to watch Town Meeting from home and vote electronically.
Did you hear what happened last week in Westborough, Mass.?

They use electronic voting at Town Meeting. When you check in, they issue you an electronic voting device to take into the hall with you. Voters are clearly instructed not to share the handsets.

At a Special Town Meeting last week, a husband and wife were among 1,300 voters that showed up to decide a controversial zoning measure. (How all these people managed to get out of the house at night was not fully explained.) Anyway, the wife left at one point to pick up the couple’s children. The vote came up while she was gone so her husband took it upon himself to vote twice, once using his own device and once on his wife’s.

Another voter took a photo of the man using the two electronic handsets to vote and showed it to the Town Moderator.

The incident didn’t affect the outcome, but if this can happen in a controlled situation where everyone is in the same room, imagine the hanky-panky that could ensue if people were allowed to vote from the privacy of their own homes.

And I don’t even want to think about the potential for hacking.

One of the reasons that Town Meeting has worked for so long is that it requires people to actually show up. There are hundreds of eyes and ears to make sure that someone isn’t voting who shouldn’t be voting and that votes are being counted accurately.

I realize that eyes and ears are old technology, but can we hang on to them just a while longer?

Town Clerk Betsy Sheeran says she’s not sold on electronic voting at Town Meeting, especially in light of the Westborough incident. And remote electronic voting? Not happening.

So, for the foreseeable future, you’ll still have to show up. But only if you want to participate and vote.

If not, nobody cares.

[This column originally appeared in the Oct. 27, 2017 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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