On page 20 of the 2010 Wayland Annual Town Meeting Warrant, there is a petitioner-proposed article that proposes to create an online forum in which town meeting articles could be debated. This is a fantastic idea--I'm surprised that no one thought of such a thing sooner. If only there were such a site--we could be debating this very article at this very moment.

I understand that a more detailed plan was outlined at a public meeting earlier this week. I didn't attend that meeting and so only heard about its content second hand. If anything that I write is inaccurate, I look forward to being corrected.

As I understand it, the idea is to create a virtual "discussion forum" with characteristics perhaps along the lines of what's outlined in the first post here. The ATM proposal adds a few wrinkles:

= The forum would be moderated by one or more elected or appointed officials. It's not clear to me how they would do this moderating in anything remotely approaching real time, since any group of two or more would have to meet in open meeting with proper advance notice. Instead, I could imagine a forum that is in essence self-moderated, with only an occasional light touch administered by a private citizen.

= The forum would have a voting mechanism that would allow members to vote for only one best post (at least as described in the Warrant--the latest idea might be different), with higher vote-getting posts rising to the top. There are two obvious flaws with this idea. The first is that once you vote for a post, you can't vote for a later and better post. This could be resolved by allowing a member to rank each post on a numerical scale (which, BTW, is called range voting, and is a superior approach to the current "one-person, one-vote" system we use in US "democracy"--details here), such that they could vote for more than one. Either way, having higher rated posts rise to the top reveals the second flaw: comments that build on prior posts might make no sense if the sequence was constantly shifting.

For my part, I favor experimenting with electronic voting (Article 20). The huge time savings would in my opinion make Town Meeting run enough more smoothly that we would not have to consider more extreme ideas such as an Australian Ballot (Article 22). And as for an online forum where we can debate, well, only time will tell ...