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Thread: How to Vote Electronically

  1. #1
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    Default How to Vote Electronically

    http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/Wayla...tronically.pdf

    I will be happy to answer any questions about this process.

    Dave

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    Default Initial thoughts on electronic voting

    I'll split my comments into procedural and conceptual, then conclude with a proposal for how to move ahead.

    PROCEDURAL
    1. At minimum, the Moderator needs to develop precise phrasing to indicate the exact start of the 30-second voting window (e.g., "Voting begins"), the 5 seconds to go mark ("5 seconds"), and the exact closing of the window ("Voting ends"). Too many times, he appeared to be asking the system vendor whether the window was open when in fact he was announcing the same. The procedure above should only be a stop-gap, however--it's unacceptable on a long-term basis. Instead, there needs to be both visual and auditory signals, ideally with a count-down clock. Last night, the lack of even a rudimentary system disenfranchised Town Meeting members.

    2. Presumably, the system vendor was in a position to verify the Moderator's reporting of the vote. What wasn't clear was whether the Town Clerk could do so as well. At minimum, there needs to be two sets of Wayland eyes on the vote result. That too is unacceptable on an ongoing basis. Given all of the technology in place (setting aside the inevitable cliched moment when it failed to function for the first practice vote), it seems that it would require only a trivial amount of additional work to have the electronic vote count displayed visually. Last night was a step back from a transparency standpoint.

    3. While I believe that electronic voting saves time overall, on simple voice votes, it is slower, and feels slower. To me, that feeling translated to a lack of confidence in the system. I appreciate that this is irrational, but we must acknowledge that perception is a major part of trust, particularly in the system's early stages,

    CONCEPTUAL
    4. Perhaps this is a wrong impression, but my sense was that there was more oddball voting than with the traditional system. Are we really to believe that tens of residents wanted to transfer $10M from our approximately $7M in Free Cash? Are we really to believe that tens of residents wanted to delete over $1M in salary monies that would have resulted in significant layoffs without anyone ever trying to make the case that layoffs were needed?

    5. Town Meeting participation last evening lost some appeal for me. The process of pressing a button felt depowering relative to casting a vote by voice or standing. I came away feeling less connected to our democracy.

    6. Town Meeting is a Legislature. Electronic voting as implemented neutered that Legislature in an anti-transparent way. I appreciate that Legislatures routinely have the option of secret balloting (as Wayland has long had--electronic voting added nothing but convenience in that regard), but my sense is that secret balloting isn't frequently used. So it should be in Wayland.

    MOVING FORWARD
    For me, the biggest draw of electronic voting was the prospect of reducing counting time, freeing that time up for debate, or as the Moderator called it, the "conversation." (I'll save for another thread a discussion of the Moderator's repeated disenfranchisement of late of Town Meeting members that has at best--and that's not good enough--been arbitrary.)

    Here's my proposal. Let's keep electronic voting. But let's use it for what it does best--counting the vote when a precise count is needed. We should instruct the Moderator to:
    a. Ask for a voice vote
    b. If the voice vote is not conclusive, ask for voters to stand for a visual (not literal) count
    c. If the standing visual count is not conclusive, use electronic voting

    Going into last night's Town Meeting, I was a proponent of electronic voting. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same this morning.

  3. #3
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    Default Welcome to the New Moderator, Mr. Berry!

    Jeff, I concur wholeheartedly. Furthermore, I say, "Thank you, Mr. Gossels. Welcome, Mr. Berry!"

    Mr. Berry,
    Here are my thoughts on last night, and suggestions for going forward:

    1) I agree with Jeff that we have lost a sense of participation, and open voting in the town grange. I miss shouting Yea and Nay. The timidity and meekness of voting secretly in legislative session would have those ancient New Englanders who began here in 1630 laughing at us.
    2) Sitting for a solid 3.5 hours is intolerable. With no standing count ever, we not only lack good "seventh-inning stretch" opportunities, but the whole evening seems longer, unbroken by movement. Ask for a standing count every once in a while -- whether you need one or not! Use the gizmo voting to speed through actual tallies only. Let's call the gizmo an "Electronic Teller" or "E-Teller."
    3) The Finance Committee and all other Committees hold numerous public forums leading up to TM. These committees seek and welcome public questions and input.

    TM is the Moderator's meeting. Mr. Berry, I suggest your imprimatur on TM be your enforced rule that no question may be asked at TM, if that person has not asked the question at, or attended, a preliminary public hearing. The usual calls for "Transparency!" ring hollow, when public meetings in the lead-up to TM go unvisited. Cannot the TM Moderator ask of a questioner, "And sir/madam, before you ask your question, tell us what preliminary public meeting you attended." Rule out anyone who failed to ask questions in preparatory meetings. I was impressed with the graciousness of those who smilingly and graciously yielded their podium when overruled by the Moderator. Saying "No" is A-OK.

    Such a small hurdle would not be unduly cumbersome for many of the eagerly involved questioners who relish bombarding Committees with detailed inquiry at TM, stealing time from a town-wide audience who generally have little interest in often arcane detail. Such a small test would still allow questioners to question, but perhaps they would have already had a large part of their inquiries answered. TM should be managed as an Executive Session, not a working meeting.

    I congratulate all who worked so hard to orchestrate this TM, and the new changes. Change is exciting. Keep up the good work and keep tuning.

    - Stu

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    I sent the following to Alan Reiss in response to an email he sent out about the success of electronic voting in the first session:
    -------------------------

    Hi Alan et al,

    Thank you to all of you for bringing this to Town Meeting. Just a little quick feedback from the trenches. I do think people liked the speed of the e-voting. The glitches you mention can obviously be overcome.

    I highly recommend you review this post on the WaylandeNews Discussion Forum with an attendee's comments regarding last night's experience: http://www.waylandenews.com/forum/sh...=4112#post4112 [Note: that's this post, so don't bother clicking on it]

    I would like to add to this, my own thoughts:

    I do not think you can read much into the 2:1 vote that you describe as in favor of secrecy. I believe that question was not worded to elicit the result fairly (worded, I'm sure rather unintentionally like a political poll seeking to achieve a desired result). I suspect that is what Larry Krakauer rose to comment on after the vote, but he was not allowed to speak.

    People were offered the choice (approximately wording):
    • vote aye if you prefer to stand up and be counted
    • vote nay if you prefer a secret electronic ballot

    People were not offered the choice to both stand up and to be counted electronically. Many people I spoke with last night favored that approach (actually, every single person I mentioned it thought it was preferable to what we were doing). People wanted to be able to stand up (voluntarily) at the appropriate time to indicate they were in favor, and then separately to stand up against -- perhaps during the 30 second window. This could be done, and should be done.

    While some people may like to vote privately, and they now have that right, my right to "stand up" and indicate my choice, my right to vote publicly was taken away.

    I think that right is very important -- and here's a concrete example why. I saw and heard many examples last night of people who were confused about what they were voting on -- in the past, some of this confusion has been obvious and voters have been able to rectify it by talking with their neighbors when they saw the vote not going the way they expected. Last night, there was no way to see this. People were voting and only too late realizing they had not vote as they meant to.

    Could a half dozen or so people not have wanted to pass over the article to pay unpaid bills when there were none? Could 80 people have really not wanted to accept reports? Could 40 people really have wanted to take $10 million out of free cash when there's only just under $7 million there?

    Maybe. Sometimes people like to take a "send a message". But what if a lot of people wanted to "send a message"? Sometimes people only do this when they know their side won't prevail -- they want to send the message, but they don't really want to create chaos. But with legislative voting in complete secrecy, such chaos could result. What would our town government have done if the amendment to take more money from free cash than we actually have had passed? (By the way, I believe that is what Jeff Dieffenbach rose to ask last night before we voted, but he was not allowed to speak)

    My suggestion (not requiring any change in the electronic process), when it is time to vote:

    1. The moderator make very clear what we are voting on, what a YES vote means and what a NO vote means
    2. The moderator allows standing votes either before or during the voting window, and then makes certain that the voting window is clearly known to people


    For example: "We will start by allowing those who wish to vote publicly to state their positions. If you would like to stand and vote, then at this time, all those in favor who wish to stand, please rise. Thank you. All opposed who wish to stand, please rise. Thank you. Now the official electronic voting window will now open..."

    I know there are no plans to make this change during this current session, but I ask you to please consider it. It could easily be done with no change to the electronic processes on Sunday. If not, I request that we please consider this should we choose to continue with electronic voting in the future.

    Thanks again for your efforts bringing electronic voting to Town Meeting. Last night was an interesting experiment. I am sure we will learn from it and improve as we go forward.

    Regards,
    Kim

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stu Cartwright View Post
    The timidity and meekness of voting secretly in legislative session would have those ancient New Englanders who began here in 1630 laughing at us.
    Candidate for quote of the year! Well put, Stu.

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    Many thanks for the feedback. I encourage you to attend the public hearing on Thursday 4/14 at 7:30 pm and make these points in person.

    The results of each electronic tabulation are printed in real time, and are thus available for a "double-check".

    The results of each electronic tabulation are not the results of the vote because ballots from the "manual counting zone" must be tallied. The electronic voting system could be extended to accept the manual count and display the voting results on a video display system (if available); this was beyond the scope of the free pilot offered to Wayland. The system could also be extended to display the purpose of the vote (e.g. "Article 3, Main Motion", "Article 5, Terminate Debate"), and to unambiguously indicate "when to vote".

    Note that the video display system now present in the Middle School Gym and Auditorium is dedicated to linking these two rooms; were we meeting in the High School Field House, this video display system would only be present if the Selectmen expected attendance large enough to warrant use of a second room, or if a display system dedicated to displaying status and results were made available.

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    Alan Reiss requested that I post the email he wrote to which I was responding. Below is the text of that email:

    All,

    The feedback that I received over and over last night was that the citizens of Wayland appreciated the speed, accuracy and privacy of electronic voting.
    What were their complaints?

    The same complaints that we had in wanting to roll this out with all the bells and whistles.

    -- They wanted a countdown clock
    -- They wanted a more crisp start and end of the voting window
    -- They wanted to see the bar charts of the results

    All of this is possible if and when this becomes permanent for Wayland.

    One person remarked to me: "you mean this was a one time thing? We have to go back to standing again?"

    Did it go perfectly last night? NO
    There were some glitches and these were handled... but nothing got in the way of the forward motion of the meeting.

    Of special note:
    A number of votes were within +/-10% and some of these were quantized votes of 2/3rds.
    These close votes would have been exceedingly difficult to have called with a voice vote and would have most assuredly triggered standing counted votes...
    Even the last vote of the night... the vote to adjourn was numerically close.

    There were no standing counts last night because that is no longer possible with e-voting.
    There were no pleas for revoting last night because that is no longer possible with e-voting.
    The audience was CALM. There was no contention among our citizens due to vote counting procedures.
    We spent much less time voting and we spent much more time debating... like it or not... we had more time to debate. The voting void was filled with legislation.

    Finally...
    The most remarkable vote of the night was when Peter Gossels called: "All those in favor of standing up for their vote press 1 for Aye and all those who would rather not stand and be private press 2 for No"

    80 Aye (31.1%) 177 No (68.9%)

    Thats 2+ for privacy and 1 against. Remarkable !

    And Wayland never called for a private vote in 30 years because they don't want their privacy?
    We now know the real reason - they want it. But for 30 years they made a horse trade against their precious time.

    People want privacy - ONE MORE PROOF - absolutely unanimous votes are no longer realistically possible with this technology.
    Mahatama Ghandi could be getting a voted honor and somebody in the audience may not like his politics and will vote NO because s/he will no longer be intimidated against a vast ever-watching majority.

    We saw this happen last night didn't we?

    Welcome to the 21st century of town meeting voting New England

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Here's my proposal. Let's keep electronic voting. But let's use it for what it does best--counting the vote when a precise count is needed. We should instruct the Moderator to:
    a. Ask for a voice vote
    b. If the voice vote is not conclusive, ask for voters to stand for a visual (not literal) count
    c. If the standing visual count is not conclusive, use electronic voting
    Voice votes are horrendously inaccurate. The physics of sound limits the Moderator to accurately assessing votes from those seated closest to the podium; voters seated further away are progressively disenfranchised. What may sound "conclusive" to the Moderator may not be conclusive at all.

    In an uncounted standing vote, voters not standing on an elevated podium may reach a different conclusion than the Moderator and, if their favored outcome does not prevail, muster the votes to force an electronic vote.

    We are better served by a single, accurate method of voting. Those wishing to make their positions public can use the Pro and Con microphones to do so.

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    Not sure whether this posting belongs to this thread. I wanted to share my experiences about my first Town meeting:

    a. I was totally impressed with the entire process. The TM was good and his experience in handling every situation was evident. I especially liked his response on the issue of response. I only wish they implement the same policy for the State of the Union Address.

    b. I liked the electronic voting process. I agree with Alan Reiss' points on improving the process.

    c. There was some comedy of errors with the revolving account and that caused a lot of delay. I guess we have been unknowingly violating that law for some years due to the Recreation Dept revolving account. I am sure the Finance Committee will devise a solution but in the mean time somebody made a big mistake.

    d. Another person I was impressed with is Cherry Karlson. She handled the proceedings extremely well and treated all questioners with respect and smile. I did notice that some other participants were a little bit rude.

    e. One final point would be regarding ARTICLE 23: AUTHORIZE LOCAL VOTING RIGHTS FOR PERMANENT RESIDENT ALIENS RESIDING IN WAYLAND. A few years ago, when we were residing in Newton, a similar article was adopted. Nothing happened because the MA legislature did not approve it. My suggestion would be to take up this Article only after the legislature has approved a town.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nick Sawrikar View Post
    e. One final point would be regarding ARTICLE 23: AUTHORIZE LOCAL VOTING RIGHTS FOR PERMANENT RESIDENT ALIENS RESIDING IN WAYLAND. A few years ago, when we were residing in Newton, a similar article was adopted. Nothing happened because the MA legislature did not approve it. My suggestion would be to take up this Article only after the legislature has approved a town.
    Hi Nick,

    If you want to debate this one in earnest, go ahead and start a separate thread on it.

    But to respond briefly to your point: I am lead petitioner for this article. I brought it to Town Meeting five years ago and the town supported it overwhelmingly. At that time, we joined Amherst and Cambridge as the lone towns having passed such measures. Since then Newton and Brookline have passed it as well. This critical mass is important, because the legislature has to approve it, and thus far, they failed to take the measure up and take a vote on it. Waiting for a town to be approved is a sure-fire way to ensure it never happens. Having a growing list of towns approve it is the only way it ever will. I hope you join me in supporting Article 23.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stu Cartwright View Post
    The timidity and meekness of voting secretly in legislative session would have those ancient New Englanders who began here in 1630 laughing at us.
    Yeah, but we get the last laugh - they're all dead.

    In the 1760's, Boston had its own "Committee of Tarring and Feathering". Fortunately, this didn't last too long as people came to realize there were more civilized methods of humiliating people.

    We've evolved much since the 1600s. In our democracy, we cherish the value of our ability to vote privately at the polls, so why not at Town Meeting? Is it just an age-old tradition with no relevance in our modern society?



    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenhach
    Here's my proposal. Let's keep electronic voting. But let's use it for what it does best--counting the vote when a precise count is needed. We should instruct the Moderator to:
    a. Ask for a voice vote
    b. If the voice vote is not conclusive, ask for voters to stand for a visual (not literal) count
    c. If the standing visual count is not conclusive, use electronic voting
    Picture this:
    It's the early 20th century. Cars have firmly taken hold as viable means of transportation.
    Yet, rather than give up on their horses entirely, some people have taken to towing their their newly purchased automobile behind them, filled with gas and ready to go, in the event that their horse breaks a leg.

    In both of these examples, it would seem to make more sense to bypass steps one and two, and jump directly to what is obviously the most efficient method.
    John Flaherty

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

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Voice votes are horrendously inaccurate. The physics of sound limits the Moderator to accurately assessing votes from those seated closest to the podium; voters seated further away are progressively disenfranchised. What may sound "conclusive" to the Moderator may not be conclusive at all.

    In an uncounted standing vote, voters not standing on an elevated podium may reach a different conclusion than the Moderator and, if their favored outcome does not prevail, muster the votes to force an electronic vote.

    We are better served by a single, accurate method of voting. Those wishing to make their positions public can use the Pro and Con microphones to do so.
    I agree that both voice votes and standing counts (without tellers) can be inaccurate. When a voice vote is unanimous, though, or when you can actually separate out the one or several "opposition" votes (Bill Murphy's sonorous tones come to mind, and I mean that with absolutely no disrespect!), there's no dispute. The quick method of any 7 voters disputing the count would remain an effective way to get to the next level of accuracy: from voice to standing, or from standing to electronic.

    I don't agree that the Pro/Con mics are a good way of making positions public. *If* people value the public aspect (and they may well not--I'll address that piece of the conversation when I respond to John Flaherty), there would be far too much moving around the room.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nick Sawrikar View Post
    Not sure whether this posting belongs to this thread. I wanted to share my experiences about my first Town meeting:

    a. I was totally impressed with the entire process. The TM was good and his experience in handling every situation was evident. I especially liked his response on the issue of response. I only wish they implement the same policy for the State of the Union Address.
    Nick, with all due respect, the process Thursday night was not Wayland or its Moderator at its best. On at least three occasions, the Moderator (arbitrarily, I can only assume) disallowed some members from speaking while allowing others to continue even after he had told them that they were in essence out of order. (One technical note--"TM" generally stands for Town Meeting, not Town Moderator.)

    b. I liked the electronic voting process. I agree with Alan Reiss' points on improving the process.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nick Sawrikar View Post
    c. There was some comedy of errors with the revolving account and that caused a lot of delay. I guess we have been unknowingly violating that law for some years due to the Recreation Dept revolving account. I am sure the Finance Committee will devise a solution but in the mean time somebody made a big mistake.
    It would indeed appear that we have been in error. That said, I don't think that we should have addressed the problem on Town Meeting floor. It would be better to have lawyers with access to precedent either propose a correction or bring the situation before a court. As it was, we had mostly non-lawyers (I did not even see Town Counsel at the meeting, but that may have been because of the odd tucking of Town Counsel and our Budget Director back away from the Finance Committee and Board of Selectman tables) trying to solve a legal problem in a hasty fashion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nick Sawrikar View Post
    d. Another person I was impressed with is Cherry Karlson. She handled the proceedings extremely well and treated all questioners with respect and smile. I did notice that some other participants were a little bit rude.
    Agreed, Cherry Karlson is first class--her work on behalf of the Town serves us incredibly well. She's not alone in that regard, of course.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    Here's my proposal. Let's keep electronic voting. But let's use it for what it does best--counting the vote when a precise count is needed. We should instruct the Moderator to:
    a. Ask for a voice vote
    b. If the voice vote is not conclusive, ask for voters to stand for a visual (not literal) count
    c. If the standing visual count is not conclusive, use electronic voting
    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Picture this:
    It's the early 20th century. Cars have firmly taken hold as viable means of transportation.
    Yet, rather than give up on their horses entirely, some people have taken to towing their their newly purchased automobile behind them, filled with gas and ready to go, in the event that their horse breaks a leg.

    In both of these examples, it would seem to make more sense to bypass steps one and two, and jump directly to what is obviously the most efficient method.
    This analogy doesn't hold up. In your example, John, the goal in both cases is transportation. And, if one were concerned about the new transportation failing (a valid concern), they would be wiser to tow the horse behind the car and not the other way around.

    The bigger problem with your analogy, though, is that the goal with the electronic system is NOT the same in both cases. Electronic COUNTING (which is what I'm proposing) is the use of technology to make the EXISTING system more efficient. Electronic VOTING, on the other hand, creates a NEW system that changes from Legislature to what I'll call "Ballot Box."

    Now, it *may* be that a majority of people prefer changing the system, not just the means of counting. It's just not clear to me that the magnitude of the decision has yet been presented or understood in that regard.

  15. #15
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    The analogy stands.

    Whether it's about transportation or anything else, the bottom line is we've gone to the trouble of securing a state of the art, efficient method for voting, so to not use it to its fullest potential, and only use it as a fallback, would be just plain silly.
    John Flaherty

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

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