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Electronic Voting Discussed at Selectmen’s Meeting

The Upton Board of Selectmen brought in Town Moderator David Loeper to an August 28 meeting to discuss his thoughts on electronic voting at town meetings.

Loeper says he knows of approximately 24 communities who are now utilizing electronic voting both for open and representative town meetings. In the case of Upton, each voter would be given a small, handheld device with a YES

or NO button that is pushed when the moderator instructs residents to vote. Voters would be given approximately 30 seconds to cast their vote and then anonymous results are typically tallied and displayed shortly after. Instead of a voice vote, which at times can be disputed, or a hand vote, which

can take time to count, the electronic voting may assist in those situations.

"The real question you have to ask yourself before considering electronic voting is—is there a need to have it," said Loeper. "How many town meetings does Upton have each year? How many people typically attend, and how many close votes does the town really have? These are the things that would drive whether or not to consider electronic voting."

Cost is also a factor. Loeper stated he heard costs could run between $30,000 to $80,000 yearly. Not only does it cost money to purchase the devices,

but also the software. The service is run through a local

area network. He noted, it's critical to also have people in attendance who know how to run the voting. Town Manager Derek Brindisi stated the service could be rented instead of purchased which would run considerably less.

As far as saving time, Loeper stated not necessarily. For example, he said the last time the town had a close vote was over the Sweet William Farm, which took about 15 or 20 minutes.

"If we had the electronic voting it would have taken 30 seconds," he said. But he added the flip side of that is 90 to 95 percent of town votes run fairly quickly. Electronic voting for every single vote would mean waiting to cast votes and then seeing the results.

Loeper said he's not against electronic voting. Benefits can include giving people anonymity when voting. "Every vote would be a secret ballot essentially," he said.

Selectman Brett Simas stated he heard from some residents who are uncomfortable voting publicly at town meetings because of what neighbors or friends might think. "And some small business owners don't bother to vote on anything publicly because they're afraid it could affect their business if someone disagrees with them."

The Selectmen made no decision on electronic voting and will continue to discuss it in the future.


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