On Saturday, July 24, the residents of Reading voted in a special election to determine whether or not the voting mechanism on town meeting day should change.
According to Reading resident Shiri Macri, who brought forward the petition to change the voting mechanism, the meeting lasted about an hour and was attended by about 68 people.
“All the articles passed. The first and third articles passed with just a couple of ‘nays.’ The second article, about budget voting, had more discussion and was too close to call with the voice vote and ended up going to a written ballot vote, ironically,” said Macri.
Select Board Chair Gordon Eastman noted that the vote was 43-25 in favor of the article.
The discussion about the budget voting was around the issue of how the budget is made, according to Macri. “When voting from the floor at town meeting, residents can propose budget amendments at the meeting. With Australian ballot voting, proposed amendments will need to happen before articles are warned which is at budget planning meetings in the fall. In Reading, we’ve actually only ever amended the town budget a small handful of times.”
Eastman said, “If there is a no vote on the budget, the Select Board will have to create another budget and hold another vote.”
Prior to the special election, Macri said the question she was asked the most was whether or not Town Meeting was going away. “It won’t. Per state statute, towns that vote by Australian ballot are required to hold an informational meeting within 10 days prior to voting,” she said.
“So we’ll still meet and talk about issues, ask questions, discuss articles, etc. This is informational only, which is different from the way we’ve met in the past,” she continued.
The special meeting was held because of a petition started by Macri, which had been submitted to the Select Board in May. It requested that voters in Reading use Australian ballot to elect town officers, adopt all budget articles, and vote on all public questions.
“I brought the petition to the Select Board because it seems like a way to increase voter access. Reading had 272 votes this past Town Meeting. Historically, Reading has had an average of approximately 75-100 voters at town meetings, or about a 12-20% voter turnout, which is a similar turnout as other towns that vote from the floor,” explained Macri.
Reading had tried this approach about 20 years ago, according to Eastman. “In the second year they were back to only a few people voting. I’m in favor of whatever gets people out to vote.”
Macri thinks it will be different this time. “I’m hopeful that the change could be more effective than 20 years ago because a lot has changed politically and socially in 20 years leading to more people being motivated to cast votes, but not everyone is able to make it to town meetings to vote.”