The following letter to the editor was submitted by Andover resident Steve Walther (photo). The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Andover News. You can learn more about our policy on opinion and commentary on our Mission and Policies page.

Did you attend the recent annual Town Meeting? Thank you for your service! Historical reenactments like Town Meeting offer a glimpse of the pace of life during the 1600’s. Few realize how slow, how arduous, how maddening life could be back then. But Andover has Town Meeting to remind us, and this most recent reenactment surely drove home the slow, the arduous, and the maddening.

Outside of New England, Americans moved on to other forms of local government, that improved public participation, embraced the American notion of ‘checks and balances’ to limit power, and valued people’s time. Such a laborious and time-consuming process as Town Meeting couldn’t compete, whenever people had a choice they left Town Meeting in the past. Let’s articulate, Town Meeting is so awful because:

  1. Terrible turnout: While democracy thrives on and becomes ever more legitimate with higher voter participation, Town Meeting becomes much less onerous and more efficient with the least participation. This system functions as intended, and voting at Town Meeting manages only a 1.3% participation rate (ref. Official Town transcripts of all roll call votes for the 2021, 2022, and 2023 Annual Town Meetings.)
  2. Sloth-like voting: To complete your voting at Town Meeting you needed at least 6 hours total across two consecutive nights, on the date, at the time, and in the place determined by the Government. In contrast, modern voting usually takes 10 minutes (thanks poll workers!), or you can mail in your ballot. This may explain the 98.7% non-participation for Town Meeting voting. Time is money, and Town Meeting levies a huge poll tax to participate.
  3. Can’t be fixed: Andover has over 26000 eligible voters. Where could you even put them? You would need Fenway Park to hold them for a Town Meeting, if we had a successful democracy. Maybe a 6 hour 26,000 person Zoom meeting? 
  4. Shackled process: Even when you attend, you cannot get things done properly. At the recent Town Meeting, voters passed a budget increase for the schools. What they actually wanted was equitable budget cutting at Andover Schools, not targeted solely at teachers, but Town Meeting can’t do that. Result: a budget increase and an unbalanced budget. Not surprisingly, the school committee said it would aim to thwart the clearly articulated will of Town Meeting. Is it effective government yet?
  5. Bonus sloth: Town Meeting has an ineffectiveness multiplier. The failure of this Town Meeting to produce a balanced budget, means Andover is likely to spend time and money on another Town Meeting to fix it. The increasing failures of Town Meeting have led to multiple voter called Special Town Meetings, and several more voter called Special Town Meetings are likely in the coming months. Are we feeling efficient and productive?
  6. Arbitrary rules: As a neolithic form of governance for settlers, New England’s Town Meeting has no written rules, it has an “oral tradition”. No modern society would find this acceptable.
  7. No checks and balances: Town Meeting’s “oral tradition” is decreed by a moderator, who may invent new traditions at any time, who has no oversight, and actually refuses to even discuss any possible recusal for conflicts of interest. Meet the Imperial Moderator, she will choose who can speak, she will choose whether or not to enforce the unwritten rules, and she will end discussion at a time of her choosing, it is her meeting not yours. 

Andover is not condemned to a slow, laborious, and undemocratic form of governance. Many Massachusetts Towns have upgraded to modern governance and we can do that here. Expect to see grassroots efforts to get voters directly involved in how they are governed, and please support them. Democracy means being able to choose.

Steve Walther

Andover News accepts and encourage reader submissions, including letters to the editor and opinion columns. Submissions should be 750 words long or fewer and Andover-focused. Please include your name, title if applicable to your topic and connection or interest in Andover. We also need a phone number so we can confirm authorship. Send us your prose! 

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