Letter to the Editor: Town Meeting – Time for Some Changes

~Submitted by Zina Deldar 

The time has come to reimagine how Town Meeting is structured. Town Meeting is inaccessible to thousands of voters, as evidenced by the difference in voter turnout between Election Day and Town Meeting. On November 8, 2022, 6,507 Bedford voters (or 61.8%) cast a ballot ( https://www.bedfordma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/1913/November-8-2022-State-Election-Unofficial-Results-PDF); in contrast, six days later, only 1,074, or 10.2% of registered electors, voted on the final, most controversial article of Special Town Meeting. The difference in voter turnout is alarming. (Even more troubling, Bedford’s quorum for Town Meeting is 100 people, less than 1% of current registered voters!) On top of that, Massachusetts’s voter rights laws do not protect employees from taking protected time off from work to participate in Town Meeting. 

Town Meeting dates back to colonial times, and has not evolved with the realities of modern society. The electorate consists of caregivers; parents of young children; single parents; workers who have non-traditional work hours; the elderly or disabled who may be unable to drive late at night or sit in uncomfortable seats for hours on end; and workers who have traditional work hours, but cannot accommodate the late nights that Town Meeting requires. These individuals face substantial barriers to vote on town funding issues that directly affect their wellbeing and quality of life. For those among us who are faced with minimal to no obstacles to participate in Town Meeting, you are fortunate; however, we cannot dismiss the obstacles faced by our neighbors without also dismissing (and silencing) their perspectives on town issues. 

My desire is for Town Meeting to evolve. While I recognize the administrative hurdles, I want to see Town Meeting replaced by a more accessible alternative. Some suggestions include: (1) adopt a representative Town Meeting, whereby each precinct has elected representatives who vote at Town Meeting; (2) entrust our already-elected Select Board to make funding decisions; or (3) have the electorate vote on these matters on Election Day. Option #3 was especially appealing at 11:30 p.m., when I ultimately voted by secret ballot at Special Town Meeting and recalled that just six days earlier, I voted in a matter of minutes on many topics with the convenience of Bedford’s polling site being open from 6:45 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

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Molly L Haskell
February 3, 2023 7:37 pm

Elected reps eventually look to reinforce their own beliefs and prior judgements. It is human nature. Today, Bedford voters have two ways to be involved in important decisions. One: vote at Town meeting. Two: serve on a committee through years of meetings. Let’s not lose our direct vote.

Last edited 9 months ago by Molly L Haskell
Catherine Van Praagh
December 15, 2022 8:11 pm

These are excellent points. Even more if people could manage to attend, we don’t have the space to hold them. Town meeting formats are regulated by the state, but there are other options, and we should consider them. https://www.mma.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/forms_of_local_government_0.pdf

Mike Merrick
December 14, 2022 1:24 pm

This smells like a certain group didnt get what they wanted at last town meeting, so a group in charge will try and make changes so they can all get what they want in the future. That is not democracy, that is corruption.

Ben Krosner
December 15, 2022 11:58 am
Reply to  Mike Merrick

The only action the select board has indicated they want to do at this point is survey residents in some way about open town meeting. That is not corruption, that is democracy.

Mario Mendes
December 15, 2022 11:05 pm
Reply to  Mike Merrick

This was my very first thought, too.

John Mangones
December 13, 2022 9:00 am

Thank you for this letter. I attended the town meeting on Nov. 14. My wife was also interested in voting, but one of us had to stay home with the kids. I parked a half-mile away and stayed until 10:45PM at which time I left because I had an important work event the next day. Neither of us voted.

Nancy Wolk
December 12, 2022 9:50 am

I completely agree. Town Meeting fails to represent everybody.

Mario Mendes
December 15, 2022 11:04 pm
Reply to  Nancy Wolk

There are 3 types of voters in town 1) those who show up because they care enough about what’s being voted on 2) the huge number of people who vote with “whatever my neighbors decide, either way, is fine with me” and 3) a very tiny number of of people who simply can’t make it to vote.

Barbara Feldman
December 11, 2022 9:11 am

Perhaps mail-in ballots would take are of those who do not wish to attend in person? Our one-vote for one-person system is the most democratic.

Mario Mendes
December 12, 2022 10:54 pm

This would be my preference too. Though an implementation where residents get to vote online wold also work.

Jeremy Paskali
December 10, 2022 5:31 pm

I love the idea of having an Election Day along with a Town Meeting that is purely for information dissemination and debate. The Bedford Citizen could then post a recording of Town Meeting online for a week or two leading up to Election Day.

Jeremy Paskali
December 10, 2022 5:28 pm

I’m in favor of keeping a direct democracy and keeping voters the power to decide funding. Could a local gerrymandering take place with a representative democracy? What are the implications of having the select board decide funding without vote?

Ben Krosner
December 11, 2022 5:53 am
Reply to  Jeremy Paskali

Gerrymandering is extremely difficult if not impossible at this level. Most likely a number of representatives will be assigned to each preexisting precinct, but even if someone tries to get clever the resolution required to gerrymander is not there because voting results are based on precinct.

Richard Rhodes
December 10, 2022 10:37 am

I wholeheartedly agree with Zina Deldar! She convincing lays out the impracticability of our present Town Meeting for nearly 90% of our citizens. If we want our decisions to be made in a representative fashion, we must make changes. Fortunately Zina lays out 3 excellent alternatives for us too!.

Mario Mendes
December 9, 2022 11:51 pm

Town meeting is the only place where my individual vote still counts, regardless of whether I voted for the winning side or not. Current state laws can be updated to allow voting by mail, so anyone who wants to vote can get their vote counted too. No need for middlemen pretending to have my back.

Tim Bennett
December 12, 2022 4:05 pm
Reply to  Mario Mendes

How does this idea mesh with amendments at the town meeting? To my knowledge, items can be amended to be reduced in scope so a mail in vote may end up being for something different than a vote on the day of.

Josh Grossman
December 9, 2022 9:26 pm

I agree! Requiring hours of sitting at Town Meeting discriminates against everyone who cannot attend. And it’s not necessary. The town can arrange for people to contribute arguments for any item up for discussion through the town’s website, through a special mailing, the Citizen, etc. Modernize!

Cynthia Lynch
December 9, 2022 7:22 pm

Excellent letter – I fully agree that Bedford’s TM must evolve. Two-three very late nights a year is not inclusive and severely outdated. I believe that a representative town meeting makes the most sense. Each precinct would get to elect their TM members who they would entrust on the issues.

December 30, 2022 1:15 pm
Reply to  Cynthia Lynch

Clearly, representative government does not always represent the opinion of the people. Town meeting gives your voice a vote.

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