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Thread: How to Vote Electronically

  1. #31
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    I did not know that the Moderator had outlawed "I'm voting X" signs. Perhaps he anticipated an escalation process that would lead to signs stretching from one side of the gym to the other, and dragon dancers snaking through the aisles.

    Holding brief, back-to-back "Those wishing to indicate their public support may rise", "Those wishing to indicate their public opposition may rise" segments immediately preceding the vote seems reasonable.

    I have the Town Clerk's vote counts from the first session, but do not yet have them from the second. In the first session, there were two votes within 10%, and a third within 15%; all three of these would certainly have required standing counts. Combine that with the 5 standing counts you cite above, Kim, and that's roughly 4 hours of time saved.

  2. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Holding brief, back-to-back "Those wishing to indicate their public support may rise", "Those wishing to indicate their public opposition may rise" segments immediately preceding the vote seems reasonable.
    I am glad that seems reasonable.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    I have the Town Clerk's vote counts from the first session, but do not yet have them from the second. In the first session, there were two votes within 10%, and a third within 15%; all three of these would certainly have required standing counts. Combine that with the 5 standing counts you cite above, Kim, and that's roughly 4 hours of time saved.
    I cannot deny that the electronic counting has been a tremendous time-saver, and I will add I am sorry that the devices will not be available tonight. (Did anybody tell the guys from Florida how nice a day we were going to be having here?)

    Separately, Dave, could you send me those vote counts? I'd love to post all the numbers (unless the Town Clerk is going to post them all on the Town Meeting results page, in which case it isn't necessary). Thanks!!

  3. #33
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    Interesting parallel discussion on the Town Crier web site. Oddly, the "troglodytes" (ha!) don't appear to have found it yet!

    Below is a paraphrasing/excerpting of an exchange between another resident and me (the other resident declined my request to post his/her comments here verbatim). For the resident's comments in their original form, please visit the Town Crier page.

    Quote Originally Posted by Town Crier commenter
    The commenter reported on poll questions asked by the Moderator at Town Meeting showing 69% (Thursday) and 78% (Sunday) of people voting in favor of "privacy." The commenter took exception to questions raised about those polls as being a downplaying of the results.
    It may well be that a majority (or perhaps it's a 2/3 majority that's needed) of Wayland voters truly want to convert our tradition of 'Legislature' to what I'll call a 'Ballot Box' approach.

    What isn't clear based on my observation, however, is that residents have yet wrapped their heads around the difference between electronic COUNTING (which seems to be a near universal hit) and electronic VOTING.

    To my knowledge, for instance, the poll questions did not have electronic COUNTING as an option. To me, that's a serious flaw in the poll. And, I think that the poll should be town-wide--I'd like to see it on a future ballot in some form so that more people are weighing in.

    Quote Originally Posted by Town Crier commenter
    The commenter opined that the polls were fair and pointed out that secret ballots have long been allowed at Town Meeting. The commenter made the distinction between government acting transparently and residents voting privately.
    I replied that the commenter wrote: 'I see you want to do a poll. After you do it and you don't get the results you want, will you want to do still another poll?'

    No, one fair poll is enough. I hope we get around to doing it at some point.

    Town Meeting has been a 'Legislature.' That's 'Government.' That's 'transparent.' Or should be, as I see it. I support our current form of government, enhanced by electronic COUNTING. If a sufficient number of Wayland residents wish to change our form of government, so be it. If that comes to pass, I would hope that we would at least allow for the voluntary public expression of our Legislative vote along the way.

    Quote Originally Posted by Town Crier commenter
    The commenter reiterated points about polling, legislature versus individual voting, and the obligation of an individual to "report" a vote, ending by asking me,

    "If folks would have the ability to show a public expression of how they wish to vote prior to the actual voting, which would be done in private, would you support using electronic voting going forward?"
    To be a fair poll, in my opinion, all Wayland residents should be surveyed, not just those at Town Meeting. To be a useful poll, in my opinion, Wayland residents should have a bit of time to reflect on its use at this past Town Meeting, should have access to information outlining the changes not just in how we count, but how we govern, should be presented with more than just two options, and should be presented with the details of those options (and not just the cursory descriptions heard at TM).

    At present, excepting the two experimental nights at Town Meeting, we DO have the obligation to 'report' (if by report, one means express by voice or standing) our votes UNLESS we decide on a case-by-case basis not to. If I'm not mistaken, this is the method that the US Congress uses--they default to transparency and only rarely invoke privacy.

    I support the following process:
    a. Voice vote
    b. If Moderator can't determine the outcome, or if 7 voters challenge the count, standing visual count
    c. If standing visual count isn't conclusive, electronic counting

    While I would prefer the opportunity to express my vote publicly before a private vote compared with not having that chance, I don't support this approach compared with the one that I've outlined above.

    Quote Originally Posted by Town Crier commenter
    The commenter concluded by reminding interested persons to attend the Annual Town Meeting "debrief" this coming Thursday, April 14, at the Town Building at 7:30pm.

  4. #34
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    There was an interesting thing that happened last night that I'd like to point out. There was a voice vote taken on a controversial article (I don't remember which one off hand). The Moderator said that he thought that the ayes had it. Then he realized that it required a 2/3 vote, and took a standing vote. At that point, the Moderator indicated that the motion did not carry, which was obvious. The interesting thing to me was that, although there was no count taken, it looked to me from the standing vote, that it was clear that the motion would not have carried even by a majority vote. My experience at Town Meeting tells me that voice votes are very subject to inaccuracies (depending on where the counter is standing) and manipulation (by people voicing their votes loudly). I thought that the electronic voting worked great, and I personally don't have any problem with the secret ballot nature of it. It was very refreshing to be able to have two nights of extremely controversial issues, in which the primary activity was debate.

  5. #35
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    Default An open letter: thoughts on the 2011 Annual Town Meeting and electronic voting

    Dear members of the Electronic Voting Information System Subcommittee,

    It appears that I will not be able to attend the Thursday 4/14 Town Meeting "debriefing" session, so I'm writing to express my opinion on our recent experiment with electronic voting. As I see it, there are three main issues:

    1. If we are going to change our form of government, we should carefully consider the implications of doing so.
    2. Along the way, we should endeavor to both inform and gather input from as broad a cross-section of residents as possible.
    3. A key piece of this dialogue should consider at least 4 methods of voting

    OUR FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Going back to what I assume is the beginning of Wayland's long history of conducting Town Meeting, we've done so as a legislature. The vast majority of the votes we've taken have been public. In my opinion, one benefit of public voting is the instant feedback that it offers--we learn from each other, and have the opportunity to adjust our vote in real time if we so choose. Arguably, we end up with better decisions as a result. If Wayland chooses to give up this benefit, so be it, but it should do so thoughtfully.

    BROAD AWARENESS: The two polls on electronic voting taken at Town Meeting (showing large majorities in favor) are at best directional in nature--it would be wrong to take them as conclusive evidence of anything. The first of the two polls could have been both worded and communicated better, and was taken before anyone in the meeting had any experience using the system on an actual matter in front of the Town. The second of the two polls at least had a small bit of experience behind it, but like the first one, failed to lay out a full range of voting options. Moreover, the two polls represented the opinions of only a small cross-section of Wayland residents, and a self-selected cross-section at that. I submit that between now and the time of the next decision on electronic voting, Wayland hold a series of public forums on the topic and endeavor to survey the Town more broadly.

    METHODS OF VOTING: I can think of four ways that we might conduct our voting. No doubt, there are others.
    a. Traditional: voice, standing, then standing count (the latter with tellers)
    b. Electronic counting: voice, standing, then electronic counting (the latter with the electronic voting system)
    c. Electronic voting with public statements: voice and/or standing for those who choose, then electronic counting
    d. Electronic voting: electronic counting

    As I have expressed elsewhere, I am advocating for option b, which combines the benefits of legislature with the efficiency of electronic counting.

    Thanks very much for your time, attention, and, of course, your service.

    Sincerely yours,
    Jeff Dieffenbach
    Wayland Public Schools Technology Task Force 2008-present
    Wayland School Committee 2000-2010
    Wayland Finance Committee 1995-2000
    resident 1994-present
    parent 1993-present

    cc:
    Wayland Board of Selectmen
    Wayland Finance Committee
    Wayland School Committee (I do not have an email address for Ellen Grieco)
    Wayland Town Administrator Fred Turkington
    Wayland Finance Director Michael DiPietro
    Wayland School Superintendent Gary Burton (outgoing)
    Wayland School Superintendent Paul Stein (incoming)
    Michael Wyner, Wayland Town Crier
    Brooklyn Lowery, Wayland Patch
    Louis Jurist
    Tom Conroy
    Kim Reichelt

  6. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post

    METHODS OF VOTING: I can think of four ways that we might conduct our voting. No doubt, there are others.
    a. Traditional: voice, standing, then standing count (the latter with tellers)
    b. Electronic counting: voice, standing, then electronic counting (the latter with the electronic voting system)
    c. Electronic voting with public statements: voice and/or standing for those who choose, then electronic counting
    d. Electronic voting: electronic counting
    I would advocate for (c) with standing votes (not voice). I agree with comments both Lawrie and Dave B have made that voice voting is notoriously inaccurate. Those seated in the back have far less sway on the moderator than those upfront and those who are louder count more than those who are quieter.

    The only "on the other hand" I have to defend voice voting is that if it is close to unanimous, voice voting is fine, and that it only takes seven voters to request a count. So we *could* use voice voting if we are willing to recognize that much of the time a counted vote (hopefully electronic!) could be done when necessary.

    I prefer (c) over (b) because I think the optional privacy portion is reasonable.

    I do think having some way to verify votes after the fact is desirable. The suggestion I have made is that the result spreadsheets be posted with votes by handset ID -- since each person's handset ID is known to them, but not generally known, it provides a way for people to check their votes without knowing everyone else's. (I was told an issue with this is: what would you do if people then complained that the votes didn't match theirs? You could have people complain to game the system. Maybe so. But my thought on that -- if there is no verification possible, then perhaps votes need to be public...)

    Were we ever to switch to representative Town Meeting, then state law is such that votes would have to be public. So in any event, if we buy a system we should certainly ensure that it is capable of recording votes that are tied to the voter by name.

  7. #37
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    Jeff, you have raised a lot of good points. I certainly agree that a change to electronic voting would result in a substantial change to the culture of our Town Meetings, and should be fully vetted before such a change is made. No one who has regularly attended Town Meeting over the years could dispute that. I also agree with your notion that the electronic results of the questions that were voted on regarding people's desires with regard to vote privacy, while interesting, have little, if any, relevance for the following reasons: (1) These important questions were not thought through in advance because they were only being used as a "test run." This can be best demonstrated by the fact that the question was asked along with "do you think that the Red Sox will win the World Series." (2) No one had the opportunity to think about the questions and the implications ahead of time, and (3) it was clearly not meant to be a serious vote, since it was only being used as a test.

    Although I do think that it would be helpful to know the views of residents on the subject, I am doubtful that a town wide survey would be helpful, and I am concerned that it could actually be counterproductive. It's very hard for me to imagine that anyone could have an informed opinion on this question if they have either never attended Town Meeting, or have only attended a few of them for particular issues that have interested them. Don't get me wrong --- I do think that resident feedback is important, but I think that the best way to have helpful resident feedback is to have (1) the full vetting of the issues in public forums, such as public hearings, the Town Crier and in this forum, (2) a carefully drafted article or aticles at the next Town Meeting that perhaps would allow people to select from several viable options, and (3) a vigorous and healthy debate at Town Meeting that can not be terminated until the Moderator makes a ruling that the issue has been fully debated, and Town Meeting agrees by a vote. I think that if we go about it this way, we will produce the best survey that we have available to us --- an informed vote on an article(s) at Town Meeting by residents who care enough about it to attend and stay for the debate. And, of course, in addition to having the survey, we will also end up with a result consistent with it.

  8. #38
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    Some comments:

    1. The Electronic Voting System we used last week does provide a means for voters to verify their votes after the fact: as soon as the voting window closes, the voting system continuously updates each handset's display with the voter's final vote. This improves security, as well as voter confidence.

    2. The "Method of Voting" will not be chosen by the Electronic Voting Implementation Subcommittee or by any Town Board or official; it will be chosen by Wayland Voters at Town Meeting.

  9. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    I did not know that the Moderator had outlawed "I'm voting X" signs. Perhaps he anticipated an escalation process that would lead to signs stretching from one side of the gym to the other, and dragon dancers snaking through the aisles.
    I finally remembered to come back and respond to this notion--I strongly suspect that dragon dancers would do more to increase attendance at Town Meeting than any ten zoning by-law articles. If this great idea comes to the floor of Town Meeting for a vote, you'll see me at the Pro microphone!

  10. #40
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    In an 11/13/2011 Town Crier letter, Alan Reiss writes:

    Quote Originally Posted by Alan Reiss
    In the purest form of democracy, each person casts one vote, each vote is accurately counted, and every vote is cast without fear of retribution. In April 2010, Wayland voted to accept a free pilot demonstration of a method of town meeting voting that achieves this ideal of pure democracy wireless electronic voting.
    Two points:

    1. The democracy that Alan describes is a direct democracy in which individual "private" voters vote on contested matters themselves. Examples include voting for local, state, and federal officials as well as on local and state ballot questions. Representative democracies function somewhat differently--individual voters vote for representatives who will vote on their behalf as part of of a legislature. Examples here include Framingham's Town Meeting (among other larger towns and cities), the state legislature, and the U.S. Congress. For the most part, legislatures vote openly and publicly, although they have the ability to vote by secret ballot if they so choose.

    Wayland's Town Meeting is something of a hybrid, in that individual voters make up the legislature on a purely voluntary basis (that is, no one elects them). One can make the argument (as I have) that the vote of Wayland's legislature should be done openly. That said, that's only my opinion--given the hybrid nature of our Town Meeting, I can't say that those holding the opposite view are demonstrably wrong.

    2. My second and more important point is that "wireless electronic voting" does NOT meet achieve Alan's definition of "the purest form of democracy," in which "each person casts one vote, each vote is accurately counted, and every vote is cast without fear of retribution."

    I won't quibble with "each person casts one vote" except to say that electronic voting makes it EASIER for a person to cast two votes ("psst, hey, give me your clicker for this vote and I'll give you my clicker for the next one").

    I do worry, however, about "each vote is accurately counted." How do I as a voter know this? To be sure, this problem exists with paper ballots (although in some cases there is a paper trail if a voter wished to endure the time and tedium of attempting to pursue the matter), but it's worse with electronic voting. And, I may be more likely to inadvertently vote opposite of my intention than I am with the current Town Meeting method.

    With the current Town Meeting system of voice, standing, and standing counted votes, I've got more confidence that my vote is counted because my vote is much more transparent than it is with electronic voting, and because I have the ability to instantly question the vote if I don't think that it went the correct way.

  11. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    In an 11/13/2011 Town Crier letter, Alan Reiss writes:

    Two points:

    1. The democracy that Alan describes is a direct democracy in which individual "private" voters vote on contested matters themselves. Examples include voting for local, state, and federal officials as well as on local and state ballot questions. Representative democracies function somewhat differently--individual voters vote for representatives who will vote on their behalf as part of of a legislature. Examples here include Framingham's Town Meeting (among other larger towns and cities), the state legislature, and the U.S. Congress. For the most part, legislatures vote openly and publicly, although they have the ability to vote by secret ballot if they so choose.

    Wayland's Town Meeting is something of a hybrid, in that individual voters make up the legislature on a purely voluntary basis (that is, no one elects them).
    A hybrid of what?

    Wayland's Town Meeting is exactly as Alan describes it: direct democracy among Wayland's voters.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    2. My second and more important point is that "wireless electronic voting" does NOT meet achieve Alan's definition of "the purest form of democracy," in which "each person casts one vote, each vote is accurately counted, and every vote is cast without fear of retribution."

    I won't quibble with "each person casts one vote" except to say that electronic voting makes it EASIER for a person to cast two votes ("psst, hey, give me your clicker for this vote and I'll give you my clicker for the next one").
    Such a maneuver would be a violation of the Moderator's rules, and would have to be carried out without nearby voters noticing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I do worry, however, about "each vote is accurately counted." How do I as a voter know this? To be sure, this problem exists with paper ballots (although in some cases there is a paper trail if a voter wished to endure the time and tedium of attempting to pursue the matter), but it's worse with electronic voting. And, I may be more likely to inadvertently vote opposite of my intention than I am with the current Town Meeting method.
    When the voting window opens and you strike your handset's 1 or 2 key, a message is wirelessly sent to the voting computer. The voting computer responds by sending your handset a message containing Aye or No respectively, which your handset then displays. Thus the appearance of Aye or No on your handset's display is confirmation that your vote has been accurately received by the voting computer, which is responsible for tallying all votes.

    If your handset display shows that you mistakenly entered the wrong vote, there is plenty of time to correct it by striking the appropriate key on your handset.

    After it receives your vote, the voting computer continues to send messages to your handset that contain your last vote. These transmissions continue after the voting window is closed (at which point voters can no longer change their vote) until the Moderator announces the results.

    This scheme permits the Moderator to invoke an Audit before announcing the results. The voting computer can be directed to print a list of handset identification codes with the vote received from each handset. Any inconsistency between the vote shown on the face of a handset and the vote shown for that handset on the printed list would be evidence of malfunction or tampering. Note that this Audit mechanism does not compromise privacy unless all of the votes being audited are identical.

    For the electronic voting pilot conducted at last April's Annual Town Meeting, the voting system implemented a Teller Audit. On command, the voting system could print a list of the handset codes issued to the meeting's ~20 Tellers, with the last vote received from each handset printed next to that handset's code. The Tellers could be summoned to inspect the printed list, comparing the vote shown on the list as received from their handset with the vote shown on their handset's display. This sampling approach increases voter confidence and deters tampering without consuming much time; we estimated that a Teller Audit would take about 5 minutes. The Moderator chose not to invoke a Teller Audit during the pilot.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    With the current Town Meeting system of voice, standing, and standing counted votes, I've got more confidence that my vote is counted because my vote is much more transparent than it is with electronic voting, and because I have the ability to instantly question the vote if I don't think that it went the correct way.
    Unless you are sitting close to the Moderator, your confidence is badly misplaced. The amplitude of acoustic waves like those created when you shout "Aye" or "No' declines linearly with distance. Thus someone sitting 20 feet from the Moderator will have twice the impact of someone of equal vocal strength sitting 40 feet from the Moderator. The larger the audience, the larger the average distance between voter and Moderator, and thus the more voters are disenfranchised.

    For hard evidence of this effect, recall the Australian Ballot article presented at the April 2010 Annual town Meeting. After the voice vote for this Article's Main Motion, the Moderator announced "the Ayes have it". Opponents insisted on a standing count, which defeated the Motion by a margin of 2:1. How could a margin of 2:1 opposed sound mostly like "Ayes" to the Moderator? Many proponents of this Article were sitting in the section nearest the Moderator. Anyone in the Moderator's position would have reached the same erroneous conclusion.

    Do you favor the form of "Democracy" where votes are decided by those who arrive early and sit closest to the podium? Must we camp outside of Town Meeting like at an Apple Store on "new iPad" release day?

    As advocates and opponents increasingly recognize the inaccuracy of voice voting, the number of standing counted votes will increase -- lengthening Town Meeting by hours, spiking frustration levels, and ultimately driving away all but the most dedicated voters. That's not the "pure Democracy" we seek.
    Last edited by DHBernstein; 11-14-2011 at 09:52 PM.

  12. #42
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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    A hybrid of what?

    Wayland's Town Meeting is exactly as Alan describes it: direct democracy among Wayland's voters.
    Our Town Meeting is a legislature, with collective, open debate of the matters before it. To me, that makes our system a hybrid of a legislature, when votes are almost always public, and a direct democracy, where individual (unelected) voters participate. I think that arguments can be made either way as to whether votes should remain public.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    When the voting window opens and you strike your handset's 1 or 2 key, a message is wirelessly sent to the voting computer. The voting computer responds by sending your handset a message containing Aye or No respectively, which your handset then displays. Thus the appearance of Aye or No on your handset's display is confirmation that your vote has been accurately received by the voting computer, which is responsible for tallying all votes.
    I certainly know of no evidence to suggest that the system that we are contemplating is faulty in any way. That said, there have been prominent reports of other electronic voting systems either failing to count votes correctly or being susceptible to manipulation. To me, a "pure" democracy would include a mechanism whereby a voter, voting publicly or privately, would have more confidence than either current paper ballot or electronic voting systems that his or her vote was being tallied as intended.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Unless you are sitting close to the Moderator, your confidence is badly misplaced. The amplitude of acoustic waves like those created when you shout "Aye" or "No' declines linearly with distance. Thus someone sitting 20 feet from the Moderator will have twice the impact of someone of equal vocal strength sitting 40 feet from the Moderator. The larger the audience, the larger the average distance between voter and Moderator, and thus the more voters are disenfranchised.
    I understand the sound propagation problems with voice votes. As I've said before (for instance, in post #2 in this thread), I would like to see a system with:
    1. A voice vote (with the Moderator audibly judging the outcome)
    2. If the voice vote isn't absolutely conclusive (it only takes 7 voters to challenge it), a standing vote with the count "eyeballed" by the Moderator (also subject to challenge)
    3. An electronic vote

    For me, this approach preserves the legislature-like nature of the meeting while taking advantage of electronic voting to save time. I still have concerns about the accuracy of the electronic vote (compared with tellers), but until there's evidence of inaccuracy for any reason, cede those concerns to efficiency.

    I'm not saying that my approach is demonstrably right, just one that I favor. I suspect that I'm in the minority with respect to that favoring, and fully appreciate that the majority's way will likely carry.

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