Massachusetts Town to Test E-Voting at Public Meetings

The electronic voting technology would allow voters to use a handheld device to vote from their seats at town meetings.

by Adam Silva, Wicked Local South/Mariner / November 3, 2017
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(TNS) -- Norwell, Mass., selectmen are laying the groundwork to switch to electronic voting for future town meetings and town elections.

Selectmen voted to expand the electronic voting committee expansion group from five to seven members during their meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 18, and to have a trial run for the electronic voting at the May Town Meeting.

According to committee member Mary Beth Shea, between 80-to-90 percent of the voting at town meetings is done by voice votes, where people say yay or nay to cast their vote. If the vote appears to sound close, meeting volunteers will count votes.

The other time a non-verbal count is necessary is a secret ballot, which is required if the town is spending over $200,000 and a two-thirds majority is required. Voters are distributed a yes and no slip, where they tear off either yes or no, place their vote in a box and throw away the other slip.

The technology would allow voters to use handheld devices to vote from their seats at town meetings.

"We have no other bylaw regarding a secret ballot vote and the device would be a secret ballot because voters won't be holding an authority card," said Norwell Town Clerk Patricia Anderson. "Every vote would be a secret vote essentially. At town meetings, there is a screen behind the moderator who reads the article and calls for a vote. The votes would be tabulated and the moderator would say if the votes have it or not."

Once the vote is cast from the device, there will be a small amount of time where votes can be changed.

The equipment will most likely be rented or leased for the time necessary and will cost between $6,000-to-$10,000 per night and meetings often go more than one night.

"It's going to be a two-year process to get this passed," said Shea. "At the next Town Meeting in May, the Town Meeting body will be voting on authorizing a bylaw change which would then allow electronic voting at the next Town Meeting. We are two Town Meetings out."

Anderson has looked into the use of poll pads, which are iPads that are used to check voters in before meetings. The state does not currently allow them to be used by towns to check voters in when they vote in elections, only for Town Meetings, according to Anderson. If the secretary of state approves them for both check-ins, she will then bring the measure forward to the selectmen to eventually bring to Town Meeting to be voted on.

©2017 Wicked Local South/Mariner, Marshfield, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.