Would broadcasting Town Meeting on the web increase participation?

Only about 6% of you made it out to Trottier for Town Meeting this year. But what if the meeting had been broadcast live on the web? Would you have watched it? And what if you could not only watch the meeting live, but actually vote on articles from the comfort of your couch? Selectmen discussed just that possibility at their meeting last week.

“I think it’s worth at least exploring,” Selectman John Rooney, who first proposed the idea, said. “The alternative is to get a fraction of the community participating in decisions that impact the entire community.”

Selectman Bill Boland shared Rooney’s concern about low participation, but wasn’t convinced going to the web was the right solution because the state doesn’t have any provisions for electronic voting or absentee ballots when it comes to Town Meeting.

The town has the ability to do a live broadcast, but would have to research technology for allowing residents to ask questions during the meeting and to vote.

Rooney said without the ability to vote, a live broadcast might actually discourage people from attending the meeting since they could just watch it from home.

Boland agreed, saying it could also prove disruptive. “The concern is that people will watch at home and then show up (at Trottier) just before one article … and then leave right afterwards.”

Rooney said there would need to be a way to limit voting to only the number of registered voters in a given household, and that residents would need to certify their votes “under the pains and penalties of perjury” or some similar mechanism. “I don’t think there’s a great risk of abuse,” he said.

What do you think? Do you like the idea of broadcasting Town Meeting on the web and allowing residents to vote from home? Or are you concerned about the drawbacks? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Al Hamilton
13 years ago

I think the idea merits serious consideration. Making TM available on the web is straight forward. There are multiple technologies that could make it easy to ask questions. Making motions should not be more difficult. In fact it might be easier since they would be in written form.

It might also be possible for those wishing to speak to sit in front of a PC camera and have their faces shown on a screen.

The technology for voting remotely should not be a problem. Also, there is no expectation of a secret ballot since voting at TM is normally carried out in public. I for one would be satisfied with a procedure that was as secure as my bank account.

For example. Each remote voter could be given an account number and password and a set of personal challenge questions. Every time they vote they have to log on, answer a challenge and enter a password. This would also provide a way to audit the process since a voter could be asked if they really voted the way the record indicated they did (remember there is usually no secret ballot at TM your vote is public)

Neil Rossen
13 years ago

Any measure that increases the possibility of more residents voting on tax increases would be an improvement over the broken system we have. Again, I believe ALL tax increases should be by secret ballot held in the same way as we vote for town representatives. Right now we have taxation without FULL representation. Al’s idea would be a good start.

13 years ago

It would for me. My main problem is my work travel schedule, so as long as I’m not in a time-zone that’s unrealistic to participate, it would be helpful. I also think even if not a participation mechanism, if recorded for webcast for later viewing would be nice to see what really goes on rather than summaries. Perhaps if more people saw what transpired, they’d be motivated to participate.

Gail Jenks
13 years ago
Reply to  Doc

The Annual Town Meeting for 2011 is available for viewing at

I'm just sayin'....
13 years ago

Very interesting idea…I do think we need to do something to increase participation. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for some to get to a meeting on a weeknight and this would allow one to participate even if on their commute coming home on a train, for instance…or if one were out of town on business!

The other alternative that comes to mind to increase participation is to hold Town Meeting on a Saturday, which I believe would also allow greater participation. Perhaps even doing both would really allow people to get involved. We do live in a much more complicated world and have so many more pulls on our time than when Town Meetings were initiated.

I commend our selectmen for trying to come up with ideas to achieve greater participation in Town Meeting!

griffin brown
13 years ago

yay web

13 years ago

Another option to consider is to move them to a weekend instead of middle of the week. Since adding technology, remote voting etc all change tradition….maybe changing the day can be considered to help people who travel for work.

13 years ago

I think Saturday Town Meetings have been discussed and discarded in the past: too many conflicts for too many people coupled with another subset of people who simply cherish their weekend free time. As I recall, there were also concerns about rules, about the meeting running too long, about what to do if a second ( or third ) session was required, etc…
I think web voting, if secure, would be an interesting technology but I can not imagine we have the money to consider implementing something like this anytime in the near future. We need some other jurisdictions to lead the way of something like this. Pioneering technology is expensive and prone to error.

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