Town Meeting in any New England town ought to be a simple thing. A motion is brought to a vote and people hold colored cards in the air to indicate whether or not they support the motion. If the color associated with the Ayes dominates the color associated with the Nays, they Ayes have it. That’s pretty straightforward. Shouldn’t take a lot of time.
Except when the dominant color in the room is the bright pink of embarrassment or chagrin—as is often the case when voters want to vote a certain way but don’t really want to be seen supporting a position that they know to be unpopular with their friends and neighbors.
In Leicester, Massachusetts, the age-old remedy for citizens who did not want to cast a public vote at Town Meeting was to call for a private vote, which would cause Town Meeting to forgo the traditional colored cards and form up the citizenry in lines before a series of aging voting machines configured to tally ayes and nays. Everyone could vote, just as always, but no citizen could see the vote cast by another. It was equitable, to be sure, but the demand for a private vote could pause Town Meeting for a full hour while everyone went to the machine to vote. If a private vote were called for multiple agenda items? The demand could extend the duration of Town Meeting for hours, if not days.
“Leicester is a blue-collar town,” explains Debbie Davis, who acts as the Leicester Town Clerk, Notary, and Burial Agent. “A lot of residents are older. Many are on fixed incomes. There’s not a lot of money to spend, so when big ticket items appear on the Town Meeting agenda—a new school or a new fire-engine—people are torn. They may know we need to replace what we’ve got, but they don’t feel we have the money. At the same time, they really don’t want to be seen voting against a new school or new fire engine. So, there was a lot of pressure in the system.”
Davis knew that other towns in Massachusetts were using electronic voting systems at their Town Meetings, so she reached out to other clerks to learn about their experiences. The input she received was very positive, so she researched the available solutions, asked for quotes from three vendors, and considered her options.
The factors informing her decision-making? The system had to be easy to set up and manage, and it needed to be able to support several hundred attendees at Town Meeting without too much fuss or configuration complexity. Overall price was important, but the experience for users was even more important.
“I knew we’d need something that would be easy for voters to use,” says Davis. “A lot of our voters are older, and sometimes they get nervous about new technology. We needed a system that would enable us to exercise a private voting option quickly and easily – and that our citizens could use quickly and easily.”
“The first time people used Meridia’s EZ-VOTE system in a town meeting, they go so excited,” says Davis. “They were thrilled with the remotes. They were simple to use. People could see the questions on the screen in the front of the room and knew which button to push to cast their vote. The pressure was gone, and people could vote the way they wanted to—and then they could see the results on the screen in seconds.”
Meridia’s EZ-VOTE solution enabled Davis to check all the boxes on her electronic voting wishlist. The EZ-VOTE system was the most cost-effective solution of the three Davis considered and provided the most attractive combination of features. It sets up quickly and requires only a single wireless base station to capture the votes from as many as 500 clickers. The system is scalable, too, and Davis could accommodate two or three times that many voters easily simply by adding a second or third receiver (Leicester’s town meetings typically have fewer than 500 attendees so one base station suffices). A PowerPoint Add-In enables the vote tallies to be displayed on-screen as soon as the voting is over, so everyone can see the results.
“People love it,” says Davis. “It’s very immediate and it saves a lot of time. It used to take us at least an hour to hold a private vote for a single question, and if we had to hold a private vote for multiple questions, we’d lose the evening. People would simply start drifting away. With EZ-VOTE, each vote is captured and counted in a matter of moments. It’s also accurate and precise. There’s never a question about a miscount or whether someone’s vote was counted or about someone cheating. We can move on to the next item on the agenda very quickly.”