Andover’s Annual Town Meeting begins on May 1 and will continue on subsequent nights until all 41 articles on the 2023 warrant have been addressed. Andover News will publish explainers on key articles between now and the end of April, and publish a Town Meeting Cheat Sheet during the last week of April for those who plan to attend. Additional Town Meeting resources and information are at the bottom of this article.
Articles in this series will be free for non-subscribers to read.
Among the recommendations the Andover Town Governance Committee made last year was the adoption of electronic voting — a proposal that Town Meeting has rejected twice over privacy concerns.
But at a January meeting where the select board adopted the study committee’s recommendation, Andover Finance Committee member Andrew McBride, who sat on both the town governance study committee and the 2018 electronic voting study committee, said electronic voting would not only improve efficiency and integrity for each vote, but would also ensure voter privacy.
“One of the underlying concerns of the town governance study was to make government more accessible to more people,” McBride said. “But the voting process at town meeting actually impedes openness…some voters actually stay away from town meeting because they don’t want to be seen to vote at all. Some voters abstain from votes — I’ve done it– ‘I’m not painting a target on my back for that matter’.”
If Town Meeting passes article 13 on this year’s Annual Town Meeting Warrant next month, Andover would join more than 65 Massachusetts towns that have used electronic voting at town meeting. If article 13 passes, Town Meeting will consider article 14, which sets aside $40,000 to rent electronic voting equipment for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
How Electronic Voting Works
Under the proposed bylaw, the moderator would be able to decide when electronic voting would be used during the Town Meeting.
If approved, voters would receive an encrypted electronic voting device that looks like a television remote control when they check into town meeting. The devices use the same technology used in electronic voting devices for Congress. Results would be posted immediately after the voting period closes.
“We will know which handset cast the vote, but we will not know which voter cast the vote,” McBride said in January. “That’s very important for confidentiality.”
Key Points To Consider
- Voters would still have to physically attend Town Meeting, but the governance committee said electronic voting improves efficiency and shortens the length of the meeting. Some voters told the committee they “stay away because town meeting takes too long,” McBride said.
- Current Moderator Sheila Doherty supports electronic voting: “The technology has emerged to allow for affordable electronic voting,”Doherty said in an Andover News candidate profile before last month’s town election. “While No system can be absolutely hack free, the voting systems used by many towns have been found to have significant safeguards to prevent hacking. The Residents of the Town of Andover have always embraced technology, and I am hopeful the Voters of Town Meeting will vote to approve this Town Meeting improvement.
- The $40,000 to rent equipment is higher than the study committee’s original estimate of $25,000.
- The Town could consider leasing or purchasing the equipment in the future, potentially cutting the cost.
- State law currently prohibits remote voting, which the study committee said remote voting would increase Town Meeting’s relatively dreadful participation rate — just 416, or 1.5 percent, of Andover’s 33,221 registered voters attended December’s Special Town Meeting to close budget gaps at the West Elementary School Construction project. Doherty believes that will change in the future and said the Mass Moderators Association is currently studying how remote voting could be implemented in Massachusetts.
File photo: Andover Moderator Sheila Doherty
Town Meeting Resources
Previous articles in this series:
- Article 4: Fiscal 2024 Budget
- Articles 25 and 26: Ledge Road Landfill
- Article 27: Funding an Active Transportation Plan with Uber/Lyft surcharges
- Article 41: Zoning Recodification
Useful Websites and documents:
- Annual Town Meeting info on Town of Andover Website
- 2023 Annual Town Meeting Warrant
- Information on Andover Moderator Sheila M. Doherty
- Town Meeting FAQs