By next year’s Town Meeting, Marblehead may have electronic counters

Come next year, Town Meeting voters may feel a bit like “Jeopardy!” contestants, if Article 36 is approved.

The article would add a subsection to Section 174-10 of the town bylaws to allow electronic counting devices to be provided to Town Meeting voters as they arrived at the Veterans Middle School auditorium.

While Marblehead’s models may look different from the one shown here from the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources, Town Meeting may benefit from the use of similar electronic counting devices in 2024, if Article 36 is approved. COURTESY PHOTO/MERIDIA INTERACTIVE SOLUTIONS

It would then be up to the moderator to decide whether the devices would be used to tabulate the vote on any or all of the articles on the warrant.

While the ultimate cost of the devices would depend on the vendor chosen and the estimate of the number of participants at Town Meeting, the cost of the devices should not be prohibitive, according to Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer.

“We saw a quote from Westwood, a slightly smaller town, for $9,000,” he explained.

If Article 36 is approved, the next step would be for Kezer, together with the town clerk and moderator, to research the best option as part of the preparations for the 2024 Town Meeting.

“A final determination would best be made at that time as the technology will likely change over time,” Kezer said.

One leading provider of such devices, Meridia Interactive Solutions, boasts contracts with the U.S. House of Representatives and New Hampshire’s House of Representatives.

Its website features testimonials from two Massachusetts town clerks.

“At my last town meeting, the clickers saved me,” wrote Lynne Girouard of Sturbridge.

The company’s TownVOTE system was able to calculate many motions requiring a two-thirds majority vote from over 1,000 people instantly, she said.

“In the past, these kinds of meetings would spill into many hours,” she wrote.

Warren Town Clerk Laurie Stockley noted that her town had been able to plow through 32 warrant articles in an hour.

“I never dreamed I’d be home for Monday night football, but I’m not complaining!” she wrote.

In addition to promoting efficiency, proponents say the devices can help minimize the impact of peer pressure on voting, particularly on controversial proposals. (Unlike in Congress, voters’ names would not be attached to their votes.)

Kezer reiterated this year’s article is simply to authorize the use of electronic counting devices at future town meetings.

“It would be up to the town moderator to determine the use of the devices,” he said.

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