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  1. #1
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    Default Town Beach, Electronic voting and governing together

    I just posted this comment at the end of a very long thread and then thought it might never been seen, so I hope people don't mind that I am re-posting this as a new thread. Some points about a couple of town issues:

    1. Beach House: I think it is important to factor into one's thinking about the Town Beach that this is one of the few common areas in our town. In fact, where almost all MA towns have Town Commons in the form of a sizable green space, we don't. We have a town beach. And we have town playing fields. I have always thought that this was pretty special. These are used by many residents for the purpose of engaging together in meaningful activities (yes, leisure and sports are meaningful activities!). The beach in particular not only hosts beach-goers during the summer season, but is used by the crew team in the fall and spring, and by many families in the off season where one often finds kids on the swings or someone launching a small craft from the boat launch, or heading out for ice fishing in mid winter, or people just strolling along the beach in all seasons. It is a very special environemnt and every time I bring someone there from another town, they are in awe of our privilege of having such a space for town residents. One can argue whether the proposed beach house upgrades are cost-effective. But I find the sense that some people seem to have that upgrading beach houses is somehow ludicrous, to be off base. A busy common area like this needs good and safe structures that support the range of activities. And I keep hearing people throwing around the "fact" that only 15% of the town uses the beach. That might be true (I have no idea), but I think that this is probably true of an town's commons areas. This doesn't diminish the importance of such Commons and our New England determination to maintain such Commons because they matter to the spirit and values of the town and its residents. It also pains me to also hear the insinuations I have heard that mostly south Wayland residents use the beach and that perhaps it is not somehow of value to the town as a whole. So, whether or not one supported the measure to upgrade the facilities there, I would sure like to hear more of the discussion centered around teh context of the importance of this space to our town.

    2. Voting. It is my understanding that when we meet at town meeting, we are meeting not simply as voters but as legislators. We are there to do what legislatures do in appropriating and approving the expenditure of funds and enacting or revising laws. Legislating is by definition meant to be deliberative. And if we are going to be a deliberative body then people need to come ready to spend the time it takes to deliberate, not simply to vote and run. Additionally, I know of no democratic legislature where the voting in done in private. The point of a democratic legislature is to be a public body, accountable to voters. For these reasons, I have to question much of the thrust of the many initiatives being proposed to privatize the voting and to otherwise turn the town meeting into simply another polling place.

    I do think that our current model for town meeting is cumbersome, because it is based on direct democracy. That is by definition a difficult and cumbersome model. And yes, it can be intimidating on some level to come and stand in front of neighbors and find you have differences on important issues. But that's the nature of a democratic society. It's why we all say things like "You have to stand up for what you believe!" Indeed we do and, as I think so much of the nastiness on internet comments sections proves, when you can sit alone and hide behind a screen with a mouse or other "voting/communicating" device and simply let 'er rip, deliberation often stops and vituperation starts. When we talk about cultivating civility, we are talking about being civil, which meas we are talking about talk to one another. Yes, people get heated and act-out. Some of this is natural, especially among people not "practiced" at deliberation and working in concert with people with diverse interests. But that's why this process is done among a group of people so that common, community standards of behavior are raised and evolve in response, people learn together about what it means to deliberate respectfully and build community, and we continue to build the possibilities for common action for the common good of the town and its residents. There is much interesting data I have seen here and there about how much more civil people who share a community are likely to be or learn to become when they are face to face in venues like this structured for deliberation, rather than in anonymous settings. The responsibility here needs to be about more than personal convenience. Town meeting and living in a community where we are our legislature, carries the responsibility for doing the hard work of not only defining good policies but also of taking some responsibility for helping one another to be better deliberators and members of our community. That's what Democracy is all about, as far as I can tell.

    So, the point to me is that we need to be working hard to enhance basic democratic and civic behaviors, not trying to work around them. Despite so much tension over the last few years over town policies and issues, I think that the gains we have made in engagement of people in issues of common concern have been remarkable. I really fear that the proposals to privatize and "remotize" participation are ideas that will throw us into reverse and send people back into seclusion and into largely "reactive" mode, rather than further the civic engagement that we have fostered. I think we would do much better to be talking about how to channel so much passion into increased meaningful engagement, not less.

    This is why many towns have gone to representative town meeting, where precincts every year or two spend time or a more neighborhood-level basis electing representatives, say 25 each, to be the delegates to the town meeting. Those people are then responsible for getting to all of the meetings that are relevant to a potential warrant (that many people say they don't have time to do themselves), for understanding their constituents and those local residents' views, and then going to town meeting and deliberating based on that. Is this a perfect system? No. It still has the usual issues about who is represented and how representatives vote. But it does make the process more manageable in many respects. One of the things about direct democracy is that it assumes a relatively homogeneous and small population. That was the nature of our small New England villages and towns when these models were developed. At some point, however, some 200 years later, towns get too big or too diverse to accommodate direct democracy and this necessitates adaptation to new models. Representative democracy is one possible model for a town our size.

    Perhaps all of this has already been discussed to death, and someone can enlighten me where my thinking is wrong (I have no doubt that several of you will endeavor to do that!). But I believe that it is fundamentally misguided to try to turn town meeting into a large voting booth. We should be able to think more creatively than that about how to enhance our town governance.

    Thanks,

    Jon.

  2. #2
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    Default Self representation is the key to Electronic Voting

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Saxton View Post
    2. Voting. It is my understanding that when we meet at town meeting, we are meeting not simply as voters but as legislators. We are there to do what legislatures do in appropriating and approving the expenditure of funds and enacting or revising laws. Legislating is by definition meant to be deliberative. And if we are going to be a deliberative body then people need to come ready to spend the time it takes to deliberate, not simply to vote and run. Additionally, I know of no democratic legislature where the voting in done in private. The point of a democratic legislature is to be a public body, accountable to voters. For these reasons, I have to question much of the thrust of the many initiatives being proposed to privatize the voting and to otherwise turn the town meeting into simply another polling place.

    We are a legislative body in Wayland and a self legislative body where we directly represent ourselves.
    This is different from a representative legislative body (which is what you are referring to) where others represent us. When others represent us then the voting must occur in public and our representatives must show those who they represent how they vote.

    In our town meeting and being a self representative legislature we only have an obligation to show our own vote to ourselves. In fact, open town meeting has a provision for privacy but we don't exercise it because its too slow by paper ballot.

    Electronic voting will give us speed, accuracy, security against illegal votes and privacy without the cost of time.
    With Electronic voting we can make our open meeting form of government move far into the future and not have to loose our right to self represntation.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Saxton View Post
    And yes, it can be intimidating on some level to come and stand in front of neighbors and find you have differences on important issues. But that's the nature of a democratic society. It's why we all say things like "You have to stand up for what you believe!"
    Jon, its more than intimidating, its threatening. I have been told directly (so this is not heresay) that people have been threatened with their jobs who work in town if they don't support certain articles on town meeting floor. In many cases those same people don't even show up because if they don't want to vote a specific way then they feel they don't want to vote at all. Those people are disenfranchised. There many forms of intimindation which been described to me by the victims. It is real and it must be dealt with.

    If I want to stand up and show you how I want to vote, I can move to the PRO or CON microphone. But my vote is my business and not yours.
    Why do you want to know how I vote. I don't want to know how you vote.

    Privacy is already legal part of open town meeting, we just don't use it because its way too slow.

    Now with electronic voting we don't have to tradeoff privacy for expiedency.
    Electronic voting is coming to New England Town Meeting... its not a question of if, its a question of when and where.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Saxton View Post
    I have to question much of the thrust of the many initiatives being proposed to privatize the voting and to otherwise turn the town meeting into simply another polling place.
    I don't think you have to worry much about that.
    The only thing e-voting will change is the actual method of casting the vote. All the deliberation, all the folks talking at the Pro and Con microphones, all the points to be made on both sides of any issue, will still be there.

    But that sinking feeling you get when the "Yeahs" and the "Nays" are so damned close that you just KNOW the Moderator is going to call for a standing vote, (and any chance of getting home before 11 goes out the window) will evaporate.

    The intimidation and awkwardness of having friends, neighbors and organized groups with their own agenda is real. (Thankfully, I haven't seen much of it this time, but that doesn't mean it won't return.) The gawking, pointing, and whispering is something that many people have commented on and don't appreciate. The fact that people would be able to vote without experiencing those things is worth something. But equally important is the fact that it could even change the results of some elections. Just like at the polls where, you have complete privacy once inside the booth, you don't need to share with anyone how you actually voted.

    As to the beach house, I live near the beach and would love to have it, but I could not support it in this economy. As nice as it would be, how can we justify it in a year when we've laid off 7 teachers? Maybe next year.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

  5. #5
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    I appreciate the feedback on these issues. As to the voting issue, I agree that it is less intimidating to vote privately than to stand up and be counted. But I guess I think of the private voting thing in this particular venue as less of a good thing than either of you do. I have to admit that I worry about the issues of citizenship more than I do about who in our legislature gets uncomfortable in a public vote. Deciding issues of public import is hard work and is by definition uncomfortable. The process of legislating and debating and voting is meant to make people uncomfortable -- to pull them out of their comfort zones and not just have them question others' assumptions, but their own. I am all for technology and generally am an early adopter. But my sense in this case is that this is not so much about technology and privacy in a positive sense as it is about the tenor of the times, where more and more people seem inclined to resent and reject the idea of having responsibility to a larger community or to anyone but themselves (the emphasis on a "self-representative legislature" being, to me, a perfect example of this). It seems at times like many are trying to become Texas: "Don't tread on me."

    But I would also offer this obsevation: Standing up and voting in town meeting, and maybe feeling uncomfortable, is not much different from the discomfort one can find at times between parents at our kids' baseball and hockey games. It is no different from the discomfort of standing in a ticket line and having someone cut in. It's not a whole lot different from a dispute with a neighbor about property lines or a loud barking dog. It's not a whole lot different from working on or attending any board or committee meeting in town. All of these situations and countless more are the stuff of navigating our values and morals in community. They are all mediated by our own senses of right and wrong, propriety, personal responsibiity and so forth. They are a natural part of finding and charting our way.

    I for one really like and value the transparency of public town meeting voting. I like the tensions is creates and how this invites the kinds of community-based adjustments I discussed originally. Intimidation in the form of threats to lose one's job is a very bad thing. We need to know if there are officials who would use such intimidation. Frowns and stares from neighbors or colleagues? Get over it. Just the stuff of legislating and of life. I realy value knowning how people are voting. Among other things, it enables one to better understand the various interests and concerns of groups and demogrtaphics. It provides insight and road maps that make it possible to have context and to understand who to be talking to and how to better solve problems. In both cases this is valuable information resulting from a the act of standing up for what you believe. I think the tensions you both identify as a problem are there by design.

    So, while I would not be crushed to see us move to private town meeting voting, I would be a little disappointed. And if we weren't going to take standing counts, perhaps we ought to at least work in some calisthenics breaks?



    As to the town beach house, I agree. I am simply arguing for consideration of the importance of such common areas to the town, and this commons area in particular.

    Thanks.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Saxton View Post
    I appreciate the feedback on these issues.
    And I too Jon appreciate your adding to the debate and surfacing many of the 'status quo' type issues that we've now heard time and time again since last November 2009.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Saxton View Post
    The process of legislating and debating and voting is meant to make people uncomfortable -- to pull them out of their comfort zones and not just have them question others' assumptions, but their own. I am all for technology and generally am an early adopter.
    I have a different take on this. Self legislating involves personal choices of whether they want to go to the microphone and speak or whether they just want to listen and vote. For the past 371 years voting has been essentially in the open (with some legal exceptions for privacy when the public was willing to put up with the time hit. There is no reason to make people more uncomfortable for the purpose of being uncomfortable. The bigger and better goal would be to get more people to participate and this can be accomplished by making them more comfortable. To this end e-voting helps to solve yet another problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Saxton View Post
    But my sense in this case is that this is not so much about technology and privacy in a positive sense as it is about the tenor of the times, where more and more people seem inclined to resent and reject the idea of having responsibility to a larger community or to anyone but themselves (the emphasis on a "self-representative legislature" being, to me, a perfect example of this). It seems at times like many are trying to become Texas: "Don't tread on me."
    What you perceiving here has nothing to do with a quest for voting privacy. But technology is most definitely the driver now.
    As we moved from the 20th to the 21st century look at what has changed...

    The way we trade stocks
    The way we do banking
    The way we pay our bills
    The way we pay for things
    The way we shop
    The way we book travel
    The way we sell and buy real estate
    The way we handle our retirement.
    The way we communicate
    The way we research
    The way we find mates
    The way we advertise
    The way we campaign

    and now

    The way we vote.

    I submit to you that if our ancestors had a way of voting privately in very short periods of time then they would have been doing it. Again, nothing in the law prevents private town meeting voting and, in fact, its in the law that we can.

    E-Voting is coming to New England Town Meeting... whether Wayland is first or not.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Saxton View Post
    But I would also offer this obsevation: Standing up and voting in town meeting, and maybe feeling uncomfortable, is not much different from the discomfort one can find at times between parents at our kids' baseball and hockey games. It is no different from the discomfort of standing in a ticket line and having someone cut in. It's not a whole lot different from a dispute with a neighbor about property lines or a loud barking dog. It's not a whole lot different from working on or attending any board or committee meeting in town. All of these situations and countless more are the stuff of navigating our values and morals in community. They are all mediated by our own senses of right and wrong, propriety, personal responsibiity and so forth. They are a natural part of finding and charting our way.
    In the school yard we depended upon adults to mediate when we couldn't
    On the athletic field we depended upon adults to referee when we couldn't do that ourselves.
    We hire attorneys to defend our privacy and property rights when we can't settle disputes ourselves

    None of that is or was immoral and all of it has been in place for decades.
    Having voting privacy neither shirks our responsibility nor diminishes our resolve.
    It just lets us vote with our hearts, minds and pocketbooks without fear of coercion.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Saxton View Post
    I for one really like and value the transparency of public town meeting voting.
    If what you mean by that is that you need to see how I vote then I find that hard to defend.
    I really don't want you to see how I vote nor do I care about how you vote.
    Why do you want to see how I vote? What good does it do you? How would you want to use that information?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Saxton View Post
    I like the tensions is creates and how this invites the kinds of community-based adjustments I discussed originally. Intimidation in the form of threats to lose one's job is a very bad thing. We need to know if there are officials who would use such intimidation. Frowns and stares from neighbors or colleagues? Get over it. Just the stuff of legislating and of life.
    Well we agree, threats of job loss is very bad. So how does one prove that with loosing one's job? Can't wear a wire, its illegal in Mass. Can't stand up and say it... you'll loose you job. Can't stand up and accuse... you might get sued for slander.
    Best solution... give em privacy and you NIP IT IN THE BUD.

    Get over it? How about you get over it when I get my privacy and so do you.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Saxton View Post
    I realy value knowning how people are voting. Among other things, it enables one to better understand the various interests and concerns of groups and demogrtaphics. It provides insight and road maps that make it possible to have context and to understand who to be talking to and how to better solve problems.
    I submit that your desire to know how people are voting so that you can perform sociological experiments pales in comparison to my legal right to privacy at town meeting that now becomes practical with 21st century technology.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Saxton View Post
    In both cases this is valuable information resulting from a the act of standing up for what you believe. I think the tensions you both identify as a problem are there by design.
    They are there because, until now, there has never been a better way.
    Now there is and thats the new design.

    Get over it.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Saxton View Post
    So, while I would not be crushed to see us move to private town meeting voting, I would be a little disappointed. And if we weren't going to take standing counts, perhaps we ought to at least work in some calisthenics breaks?

    Now there is something we can agree on.... a way to get through the hours in more comfort and come out the other end healthier.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Saxton View Post

    As to the town beach house, I agree. I am simply arguing for consideration of the importance of such common areas to the town, and this commons area in particular.

    Thanks.
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 05-19-2010 at 12:02 PM. Reason: to fix quote formatting

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Saxton View Post
    I do think that our current model for town meeting is cumbersome, because it is based on direct democracy. That is by definition a difficult and cumbersome model.
    I strongly disagree. Our Town Meeting is cumbersome because we've made no serious effort to improve it. Though committees chartered over the years have identified promising improvements, few of these proposals have been implemented because no resources were available to execute them; if the Moderator couldn't do it on his own, it didn't happen. As important as Town Meeting is, the process of improving it should be continuous, with resources available to identify and propose improvements, implement those that are approved, and then refine them based on experience.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Saxton View Post
    The process of legislating and debating and voting is meant to make people uncomfortable -- to pull them out of their comfort zones and not just have them question others' assumptions, but their own.
    There is no intrinsic reason why legislating, debating, and voting must be an uncomfortable process; on the contrary, this process should be inspirational and energizing. Our goal should be to attract as many citizens to participate in Town Meeting as are willing to make the required investment of time and intellect - which requires aggressively and relentlessly identifying and eliminating the impediments.

    Aim low, and you'll hit the ground every time.
    Last edited by Dave Bernstein; 05-19-2010 at 01:00 PM.

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    I'm not sure why some find it so difficult to grasp why I might prefer an open standing voting process at Town Meeting over privatizing it. When I participate at town meeting, I am there not just to vote but to deliberate and learn. If I see, for instance, a vote where the large majority of people standing in either the affirmative or negative, appear to be elderly, I learn that that particular issue appears to matter a lot to seniors and it helps me understand much more about what matters and why in our town policies or proposals. If the vote were instead to be private, I would have no way of knowing, as in this particular example, that seniors were voting in a particular way overwhelmingly on this issue, even if a couple of seniors had spoken on the issue. The same is true for many constituencies in town, whether they be parents of younger children, residents of the north of town, or the south, etc.

    Wanting to understand who is voting and why, happens to be a matter of huge importance to almost anyone who cares about an issue or about public policy at any level. This is why polls are conducted all the time and why exit polls are conducted in those cases where voters go to the polls. Without the ability to understand who is voting for what, and why, policy makers can't get the information they need, the interests of important blocks of voters remain obscure, and policy becomes even more completely the purview of private networks and lobbyists. For a legislative body, I just don't see the merit of arguments to privatize voting.

    Where electronic voting has been adopted in legislatures, and of course it has at the state and national levels, those votes are recorded electronically, but each legislator's vote is still identified individually, so one knows how they voted. I don't see such an electronic voting system being feasible in our town meeting environment, and so I would prefer to stick with standing votes where I can have the opportunity to understand more about who is voting on what. It seems to me that there are many ways to make this long-standing practice more efficient. For instance, it seems that one could simply increase the number of tellers (vote counters) and make the sections each pair counts smaller. I suspect one could quickly cut the time required for voting in half or more in this manner. I'm sure others who have studied this question have even better ideas.

  9. #9
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    Default Seems like a bit of a stretch....

    It doesn't take a high degree of empathy, insight or or sociological/psychological training to understand that large numbers of certain groups of people are likely to vote a certain way.
    You don't need to see a bunch of 20 - 40-something parents standing to realize that that group feels strongly about schools.
    You don't need to see a bunch of retirees and elders standing to understand that increased taxes and overrides are a concern to that population.

    And should any members of either of these groups stand opposed to how their peers are voting, they come to be perceived as the pariahs of the neighborhood.

    I just don't think this argument holds water.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    I like that Jon’s original concerns were about enhancing democracy, deliberation, and engagement. But I also think that privacy and democracy go hand in hand and that maybe all these aren’t mutually exclusive. Consequently, this voting privacy discussion is so typical for me, when I read Jon’s points I go, “ya”, then I read Alan’s, Dave’s, or John's, and I go “ya”. And in the end I go “things are always so complicated”. Perhaps I can make this more concrete. Pertaining to a recent Warrant Article I did feel I wanted my vote to be secret, and probably because I was being “wimpy.” You judge.

    Dudley Woods Article

    I live a stone’s throw away from the woods in question, the people promoting the article are very nice and are my neighbors, there were supportive signs all over the neighborhood. I walked around the woods with the petitioners, heard the reasons, but upon reflection, figured I couldn’t really decide what was the proper course until I understood how the property fit into “affordable housing’s” plans. Was the property fundamental or insignificant, and what did I feel about all that? This made it very complicated, I didn’t really have all the information I needed, and couldn’t really support a “yes” vote until I did. But I didn’t want to stand up and vote “no” (nice neighbors and what would they think… ). There was no way for me to say, this isn’t a “no”, it’s a request to defer, to decide at the next town meeting when we’ve found out more about affordable housing’s needs. So I thought, I’ll just abstain, let what will be, be. Intuitively, when I think about this, I go with Jon’s original “get over it”. I should just stand up and vote “no.” But…

    I’m leaning towards separating my understanding of voting and democracy into two parts. When my vote is expressing my individual position (i.e., voting for my representative, or in whether my shop should go union) it should be secret. But when my vote is in a legislature where the decisions effect everyone, it should be public. So, Town Meeting is a legislature…

    On another, rather larger issue, and using Dudley Woods as an example, is this the way things are done? An interest group promotes something, which people then support for whatever reasons (Do I imagine that the people who supported the Woods article, or who didn't support it for that matter, had made a rather complicated assessment of affordable housing’s requirements? Maybe.) and when it passes (in this particular case it didn’t) then everybody else affected (like affordable housing folks) just has to adjust? Their plans, their spending. No wonder we get a government that isn’t just what we want, and that is expensive to boot.

    donBustin@oneWayland.org

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    Don, you make an interesting point. The fact is that when you vote "No" on something (or "Yes", for that matter), people really can't begin to claim they know why. [Rhetorically here...] Did you vote "no" on Article 15? Maybe it was because you want a 95-unit elderly housing unit on Dudley Pond, maybe you liked Article 15, but were concerned that the wastewater committee needs to determine whether the septic siting proposed was appropriate, maybe you think some compromise should be made. We heard an hour of debate; there were a myriad of reasons why anyone might vote yes or vote no. The fact is that just because someone is voting one way or the other, people simply shouldn't judge them. If you're really interested why they voted one way or another, ask them and maybe you'll each learn something. (If you think they might be offended, ask if they would be interested in discussing it first.) But if you have a friend who gets angry at you over your vote or won't talk with you... is that person really your friend?

    I have always been bothered by this "intimidation" thing. If somebody really had their job threatened by a boss over a vote at Town Meeting, I think that's sheer lunacy. They should complain about it. Go over the boss's head. Are they in a union? They would have job protections if they filed a complaint. If they can, they should think about looking for another job, because who would want to work for a jerk like that? If they are being bullied over a Town Meeting vote, they are almost certainly being bullied over all sorts of stuff. That sort of behavior absolutely should not be tolerated.

    Speed and privacy are two separate issues with people feeling strongly about each. Certainly, you can have one without the other, and the privacy aspect is really quite new. That electronic voting speeds the process is, I think, uniformly seen as a good thing. That it makes it private is a change and not uniformly accepted. Those who like the idea of menus, I'd think, would certainly support the idea of splitting these two aspects of electronic voting out.

    As far as Article 22 goes, vote your wallet and your desires. There are reasons people might vote yes or vote no on this article, and I'm sure none of us will judge each other based on their vote. :-)

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