Eastham: electronic voting will mean the loss of the essence of town meeting

At their May 5 town meeting, Eastham citizens will vote whether to be the first on the block to replace traditional voting by voice or raised hands with electronic voting. The idea is that it will shorten meetings, improve accuracy and ensure privacy.

In a newspaper story on the proposal a former moderator from Westboro, where they use this new system, is quoted as saying that yes, it improves accuracy in vote counting, “but the real accuracy is allowing people to vote without the influence of their neighbors.”

That’s the key issue here, the assumption in this statement that voting, especially on controversial issues, will be more accurate if people get to hide their votes. Perhaps our votes should be influenced by what others think.

The whole idea of traditional town meeting is speaking and voting in the presence of those who will be affected by the way you vote. It’s called standing up for what you believe, standing up and being counted.

Public voting is a reality check. If you don’t feel comfortable voting publically—these are your friends and neighbors, remember, not Big Brother— maybe you should reconsider that vote. If you are known for how you want to shape the life you share with fellow citizens, it will make you think more carefully about your votes.

In voting on a big ticket money item you should be influenced by the presence in the room of neighbors for whom a yes vote may mean genuine hardship.

Secret votes aren’t more accurate. They just have a whole different meaning.

In ensuring privacy, electronic voting will eliminate an essential element in town meeting’s democratic process.
Town meeting could be remodelled to be much more efficient and private. First, lose the quorum laws. If you are one of the handful that want to debate publically, show up. Let everyone else email in their votes from the comfort of home. Clearly that would be a whole different form of democracy.

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