Bourne will leap headlong into the technological age when Special Town Meeting convenes next month.
Rather than doing the traditional standing body counts to determine the outcome of votes on specific warrant articles, votes will be done electronically. The move to electronic devices is expected to expedite the voting process.
Twenty people filled the library at Bourne High School Wednesday nightSeptember 18, for a demonstration of the electronic voting that will take place at the October 21 Special Town Meeting. Bourne Town Clerk Barry H. Johnson explained that the move to electronic voting was spurred by the length of time it took to vote on two marijuana articles at the October 1, 2018, Special Town Meeting.
Those votes were held by secret ballot, which involved residents filing, one by one, to the front of the auditorium at Bourne High. Each person dropped a paper ballot, signifying either a “Yes” or “No” vote, into a bin. Those ballots then had to be counted individually to determine the final tally.
Mr. Johnson estimated that more than 900 people voted on the two marijuana articles. What sounds like a simple process was, in fact, quite lengthy, he said, taking anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half.
Wednesday’s presentation was made by Option Technologies, the firm supplying the electronic devices that residents attending Town Meeting will use to vote. Company president and CEO Mark A. Fite led the demonstration.
Mr. Fite explained that when an STM attendee checks in, he/she will be issued a device that looks similar to a television remote control. The device has three buttons on it that attendees will use during voting. One button is for yes, one is for no, and a third is for abstaining, he said.
When a vote is called for, residents can press the button of their choice, and their vote is automatically recorded. Residents can change their mind while voting is still underway, but a switch in decision results in their previously recorded vote being negated, Mr. Fite said.
“You cannot stuff the ballot box,” he said, “because only the last vote is recorded.”
As examples of the immediacy to the voting, Mr. Fite posed two questions to the audience. First, he asked people to vote on whether the New England Patriots will win the next Super Bowl. In less than a minute, a bar graph on a computer screen showed that 12 people voted the Patriots would win, while six people voted that they would not.
Mr. Fite then asked the audience to vote on whether the Boston Red Sox would win the American League pennant this year. Nearly instantaneously, the bar graph on the monitor showed that 15 people voted no, while four voted yes, the Red Sox would win.
Mr. Fite added that the system also automatically calculates percentages. The result of articles that require a two-thirds vote—real estate measures for instance—will be instantly ascertained, he said.
At check-in prior to the start of Town Meeting, the resident’s identification information will be linked to the device he/she is given. That way, Mr. Fite said, it can be tracked in the event that someone forgets to drop off a device before leaving the building.
At the conclusion of Town Meeting, attendees will simply drop off their devices in a collection bin. If a device goes home with someone, that person will get a letter requesting its return, Mr. Fite said.
Although the resident’s identification is linked to the device, the same information is not linked to their vote. Any vote cast is done anonymously to protect the privacy of residents attending Town Meeting, he said.
Mr. Fite said that assuring voters’ privacy was paramount to the development of the software and technology developed by his company. Electronic voting does away with any intimidation factor that might play a role in how people choose to vote, he said.
“People can vote their conscience; they don’t have to worry about standing up and revealing their vote in a standing count, where they might offend their neighbor or their friend,” he said.
Audience members asked about the check-in process and if that would also change. Mr. Fite said that check-in will also be done electronically. He added that people will not have to go to a lane designated specifically for them by the first letter of their last name. People will be able to check in at any lane, he said, which will expedite that process as well.
The question was raised as to whether attendees had to go through a check-out process at the end of Town Meeting. Mr. Fite said no, that the only thing people had to do is remember to place their electronic device in a collection bin.
Many of the audience members expressed enthusiasm for the new voting system following the hour-long presentation. Mr. Johnson said that he plans to hold one or two additional demonstrations of the new system. He said that he has not determined any dates for those presentations.