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Thread: You'd think a certain lawyer would know better than to presume guilt

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    Default You'd think a certain lawyer would know better than to presume guilt

    In an April 30 letter posted to Wicked Local Wayland, resident George Harris lets his imagination (and his inner grouch) get the better of him.

    Quote Originally Posted by George Harris
    The recently concluded Town Meeting had more than its usual share of problems, many of which were quite serious in my view. Several of these problems emanated from the bleachers, where, in an April email, the Wayland Dads group directed younger families to sit. They came to vote for Article 26 and “While you’re at it, hang around to vote ‘no’ on Article 27.”

    1. There have been allegations of voter fraud. Several voters in the bleachers were seen in the possession of multiple handsets, in violation of the Moderator’s Rules and Regulations, Section IV.D.1.b, printed in the warrant: “No person may lend or give that handset to another person, nor may any person vote with a handset originally given to another.” That rule exists to reduce the potential for proxy voting. (The term “proxy voting” may not be understood by newcomers to town meeting – it needs to be carefully explained by the moderator.)
    Even though against the rules, proxy voting does not necessarily equal voter fraud. If a Town Meeting member is in attendance but temporarily unavailable to vote (perhaps because they are in need of using the restroom), there should be no objection to that member asking another member to cast his or her vote. I fully appreciate that the rules prohibit such an action--my point is simply that such a prohibition is, in my opinion, wrong.

    That's a secondary point, however. Mr. Harris' bigger fault is in repeating anonymous and unfounded allegations. To my knowledge, no one has come forward to report that any Town Meeting member voted using another member's handset.

    Innocent until proven guilty, Mr. Harris. Perhaps you were absent that day at law school?

    Quote Originally Posted by George Harris
    The moderator has warned voters that proxy voting is forbidden.
    To the best of my understanding, the Moderator did not explain proxy voting or say anything about not voting on anyone else's handset at the start of (or at any time prior to the "fraud" complaints) on the Town Meeting night in question.

    Quote Originally Posted by George Harris
    But that is not enough. The rules against it must be enforced. The integrity of town meeting is at stake.
    The "integrity of Town Meeting" is most certainly NOT a stake ... over this issue. Sure, Town Meeting has a problem, but that's not it. Don't get me wrong--I love the idea of Town Meeting even despite its sometimes excruciating tedium. But Town Meeting is only democracy for those who can manage to attend. I have no doubt that FAR (perhaps infinitely) more people have been disenfranchised by the very structure of Town Meeting than by the introduction of those infernal handsets.

    Quote Originally Posted by George Harris
    Anyone discovering multiple handsets in the possession of another should immediately report same to the moderator via a point of order. The handsets should be immediately confiscated from offenders. Some votes may have to be redone. Should this problem recur, it must be rectified at once, not after town meeting is over. If proxy voting is improper, then so is possession of multiple handsets, which facilitates proxy voting.
    The Moderator's Rules and Regulations don't appear to spell out the consequences of abandoning a handset or being in the possession of someone else's. Until such consequences are spelled out, Mr. Harris' suggestions rise to the level of unacceptable voter disenfranchisement.

    Quote Originally Posted by George Harris
    2. It is also reported that the crowd in the bleachers was instructed how to vote via hand signals. An email sent by the Wayland Dads on April 11, 2015, advised, “If you have never been to town meeting, the ‘younger’ families usually sit in the bleachers. We will be there to help you understand how to vote.” And that’s exactly what happened.
    It's not clear to me if Mr. Harris is objecting to the "We will be there to help" sentiment expressed in the email or to the fact of the email lobbying for votes. I hope not the latter, as Mr. Harris sent exactly such a note on April 12, 2015 clumsily asking people to vote no on Article 26, yes on Article 27, and yes on Article 31.

    Quote Originally Posted by George Harris Email
    Subject: Town Meeting Monday - Very Important for Your Pocketbook and the Town

    ...

    Article 26, as worded, appropriates money to do only a “site review” at the proposed municipal parcel for the Council on Aging/Community Center. “Sub-surface site testing,” not simply “site review,” was recommended by the Town’s Licensed Site Professional to determine actual site conditions to ensure no risk to the Town. Second, there’s a deed restriction held by Raytheon. As the motion is written, Wayland does not have legal access to the site, nor does it authorize seeking it, and could face disagreements over that with the owner, Twenty Wayland, including over who pays for what.
    Article 27 gives Town boards more time to develop well-prepared budgets and Articles, gives ALL citizens the opportunity to vote and to attend Town Meeting by restoring the long-held past practice (until 2011) of a late-April start date for Town Meeting.
    Article 31 is a resolution to renew electronic voting for another 3 years. You know how important it is to vote in private. This article needs your vote so your privacy is not taken away. Electronic voting is efficient and saves hours of everyone’s time by eliminating standing, counted votes.

    ...

    Yours for a better Wayland,
    George
    In his Wicked Local Wayland letter, Mr. Harris elaborates on his objection to vote signaling.

    Quote Originally Posted by George Harris
    What’s wrong with this? Don’t we enjoy free speech at town meeting? No, we don’t. All speech is regulated by the moderator and is to be public for everyone to hear at the meeting.
    Where is it written that all speech at Town Meeting is regulated by the Moderator? Are two TM members prohibited from having a side conversation without the Moderator's approval? That notion is ludicrous on its face.

    Quote Originally Posted by George Harris
    Suppose a group of citizens goes to the election polls with an adviser. After the citizens receive their ballots, the adviser gives them hand signals how to vote. That’s election fraud under state law.
    I'm not a lawyer and certainly don't know the law here, so I'll have to take Mr. Harris' word on this subject. Given the shakiness of the other words in his letter, though, perhaps I'm ill-advised to do so.

    Quote Originally Posted by George Harris
    Likewise, the moderator should not tolerate private voter indoctrination during the meeting. If the indoctrinator wishes to advise his crowd, he may do so at the microphone, where everyone can hear.
    This is of course just Mr. Harris' opinion. In my opinion, nothing is wrong with vote signaling at Town Meeting.

    Quote Originally Posted by George Harris
    3. The moderator should discourage, in the strongest terms, voters seeking to engage him in private conversations during debate. Such communications have now become commonplace. It is a distraction to voters, if not to the moderator, who is charged with staying abreast of the proceedings, and that is quite difficult to do when barraged by sidebar inquiries.

    4. Decorum further deteriorated by the circus-like spectacle of pajama-clad children of younger families “run(ning) around on the other side of the Field House,” as orchestrated in a Wayland Dads email. Who gave permission, when, and where is this permitted in the Moderator’s Rules and Regulations? Town meeting is the sine qua non of democracy in the commonwealth. The town’s legislature must not be treated as a romp in the park or a sporting event.
    Mr. Harris seems to desire disenfranchising voters, perhaps especially those who are likely to disagree with him. Bah, humbug. (Or maybe he just has a hang-up over pajamas.)

    I think that it's great that parents find Town Meeting important to attend that they bring their children along. Mr. Harris, unlike your off-base rant, THAT'S a great lesson about democracy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    In an April 30 letter posted to Wicked Local Wayland, resident George Harris lets his imagination (and his inner grouch) get the better of him.

    Quote Originally Posted by George Harris
    1. There have been allegations of voter fraud. Several voters in the bleachers were seen in the possession of multiple handsets, in violation of the Moderator’s Rules and Regulations, Section IV.D.1.b, printed in the warrant: “No person may lend or give that handset to another person, nor may any person vote with a handset originally given to another.” That rule exists to reduce the potential for proxy voting. (The term “proxy voting” may not be understood by newcomers to town meeting – it needs to be carefully explained by the moderator.)
    Mr. Harris' bigger fault is in repeating anonymous and unfounded allegations. To my knowledge, no one has come forward to report that any Town Meeting member voted using another member's handset.

    Innocent until proven guilty, Mr. Harris. Perhaps you were absent that day at law school?
    I have only heard of one Town Meeting member alleging that they saw anyone with more than one handset, and a police officer saying that they saw one person return two handsets, one for a spouse in the car. I agree that everything we have heard about fraud, widespread and widely observed, seems to be a huge overstatement.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    To the best of my understanding, the Moderator did not explain proxy voting or say anything about not voting on anyone else's handset at the start of (or at any time prior to the "fraud" complaints) on the Town Meeting night in question.
    That is correct. I was there that night, and I subsequently reviewed that night's WayCAM recording, and there was no mention of not holding anyone else's handset or proxy voting, etc. that evening until after the complaint was made.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    It's not clear to me if Mr. Harris is objecting to the "We will be there to help" sentiment expressed in the email or to the fact of the email lobbying for votes. I hope not the latter, as Mr. Harris sent exactly such a note on April 12, 2015 clumsily asking people to vote no on Article 26, yes on Article 27, and yes on Article 31.
    (emphasis added by me)

    Do as I say, not as I do, apparently...


    Quote Originally Posted by George Harris letter
    Don’t we enjoy free speech at town meeting? No, we don’t. All speech is regulated by the moderator and is to be public for everyone to hear at the meeting. Suppose a group of citizens goes to the election polls with an adviser. After the citizens receive their ballots, the adviser gives them hand signals how to vote. That’s election fraud under state law. Likewise, the moderator should not tolerate private voter indoctrination during the meeting. If the indoctrinator wishes to advise his crowd, he may do so at the microphone, where everyone can hear.
    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I'm not a lawyer and certainly don't know the law here, so I'll have to take Mr. Harris' word on this subject. Given the shakiness of the other words in his letter, though, perhaps I'm ill-advised to do so.
    I think, Jeff, you would be ill-advised to take his word on this. There is a state statute that prevents people from trying to influence voters as they approach the polls on election day. This strikes me as quite obviously different from Town Meeting, where the entire point of the evening is to listen to debate (i.e., arguments in favor or opposed to articles that are intended to influence voters). Trying to influence voters at Town Meeting is fraud?? Well, I suppose if that's what Mr. Harris means by fraud, we did have widespread fraud throughout Town Meeting! Why, he was guilty of it himself! Did he speak at the microphone? Did he speak at all to anyone sitting near him?

    Any suggestion that efforts to influence voters at Town Meeting is fraud is just plain silly. That is what Town Meeting is all about!

    It is bad enough that a one-sided "news"letter like Wayland Voters Network would try to spin what happened at Town Meeting as widespread fraud. It is bad enough that a resident would stand up at a public meeting "disgusted" by the alleged behavior. It is far worse when someone with a thorough understanding of the law repeats it. One member of Town Meeting complained he saw something that might make possible behavior that would not be allowed by our rules. Somehow this got twisted into lots of people committing what is a felony with a possible 5 year jail sentence in order to try to cheat the Town and change the outcome of a Town Meeting vote. That isn't what happened. Let's not pretend that it was, or try to rally people to condemn an entire group of well-meaning neighbors who in all likelihood did nothing wrong. Just because there were no specific names named does not make these accusations less heinous. Those raising these frantic voices seem emboldened by the anonymity of both the accusations (did anyone else note the consistent use of passive voice in describing the complaints in WVN?) and the accused (wow, it's easy to just cast a stone at a whole group of people rather than pointing to individuals, isn't it?). But lack of specificity doesn't make these frenzied fraud claims any less wrong.

    If we feel that greater security is needed to ensure the integrity of the votes, then let's work on the processes that our Electronic Voting Implementation Subcommittee have put in place. I haven't heard any arguments against that. That's where the focus of any "serious issues at Town Meeting" should be aimed.

    WVN and Mr. Harris and any others who have latched onto this bogus fraud train owe all those "young parents" an apology. I wouldn't advise anyone to hold their breath waiting.
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 05-03-2015 at 04:50 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Even though against the rules, proxy voting does not necessarily equal voter fraud.
    Massachusetts General Laws I.VIII.56.26 states

    Whoever, knowing that he is not a qualified voter in any place, wilfully votes or attempts to vote therein; whoever votes or attempts to vote more than once on his own name, his name having been registered more than once; whoever votes or attempts to vote in more than one voting precinct or town, his name having been registered in more than one voting precinct or town; whoever votes or attempts to vote in any name other than his own, or knowingly casts or attempts to cast more than one ballot at one time of balloting; or whoever votes or attempts to vote otherwise illegally, shall be punished by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.

    (emphasis added).

    Whether the word "vote" in the above statute applies to the votes we take in Town Meeting is not clear.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    If a Town Meeting member is in attendance but temporarily unavailable to vote (perhaps because they are in need of using the restroom), there should be no objection to that member asking another member to cast his or her vote. I fully appreciate that the rules prohibit such an action--my point is simply that such a prohibition is, in my opinion, wrong.
    If you believe the Moderator's Rules to be wrong, I hope that you will engage the Moderator in discussion on this point. Unless and until the Moderator's Rules change, however, we should all obey them -- meaning that no one should ever vote with a handset issued to another person.
    Last edited by DHBernstein; 05-01-2015 at 04:02 PM.

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    Jeff/Kim - you guys are awesome. I wish I had your patience and attention span to respond to the imbecilic attestations of the WVN and that other guy who ran for Selectman (no names please - passive only). I believe that these individuals truly have nothing better to do than to try and impose their will on others, and take delight at having the opportunity to do so publicly. As they say... get a life. With any luck, the "young parents" of Wayland (I'm honored to be in that group!) will continue to be present and prevent Wayland from drying up.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    One member of Town Meeting complained he saw something that might make possible behavior that would not be allowed by our rules.
    That's not correct, Kim. A member of Town Meeting presented a photograph showing another member of Town Meeting in possession of three handsets; this is a violation of the Moderator's Rules:

    Each person receiving a handset must retain and use only that handset until
    turned in at the Help Desk, given to a Teller or turned in at the end of the
    session. No person may lend or give that handset to another person, nor may any
    person vote with a handset originally given to another.
    (emphasis added)

    No evidence of proxy voting -- one member voting with another member's handset -- was presented.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    A member of Town Meeting presented a photograph showing another member of Town Meeting in possession of three handsets
    As I understand it, there is a "blurry" photo of someone with more than one handset beside them. I asked the Moderator for a copy of this photo since it was presented to him at a public meeting, but he had not been given a copy. The photographer has a website that he has updated to include this issue, but he did not post the photo. Best I have is this - how you could see it on cable TV:



    I can't see the handsets there. If there actually are two or even three handsets there doesn't mean that person was "in possession" of them. Nor does it mean they were loaned or given to the person in the photo. [I suppose it does mean someone was guilty of not retaining their handset, but many of us would have been guilty of this at various points, including me.] As I've said previously, my very own seat occasionally had multiple handsets on it because when I got up, the people on either side would put their handsets there, and I might leave my own. Nobody voted inappropriately with any of those handsets.


    The main point is that this isn't fraud. Even if there were multiple handsets and even if this individual was in possession of them (which would technically be a rule violation), if he didn't vote with them, it isn't fraud. And various people - in meetings, in letters to the Crier, in "news"letters that are distributed have alleged or insinuated that it was.

    Was there a rule violation? Probably. The same rule that has been violated consistently for the last three years without any hysterics over it. I think if there is any silver lining that comes out of this, it's a much greater awareness of the rules, and a need to make sure that the rules are clear to everyone at Town Meeting.

    Dave, you seem really dedicated to strict adherence to the rules, and I understand and appreciate this. I think there are some obvious issues with inflexibility on the rules (e.g., we really don't want people carrying them around everywhere and retaining them even when in the restroom or while blowing our nose), so I hope you appreciate the practical difficulties of strict adherence, and that we can all try to be reasonable and neighborly.

    I'm really not interested in yet another debate with you on the specific wording of the rules or the meaning of the words "possession" or "retain". If you want to have that discussion, please start a separate thread.

    So if you want to be an on-topic part of this discussion, can you please, just once address the larger question here -- that there is no evidence of fraud, certainly no evidence of widespread fraud, and that the complaints made were entirely blown way out of proportion?

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    As I previously posted,

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    No evidence of proxy voting -- one member voting with another member's handset -- was presented.
    Kim, what is at risk here is the community's confidence that Town Meeting votes are accurate. Since we've adopted Electronic Voting, many controversial Motions have been resolved by close votes, including at least one tie. In not one of these cases did those who did not prevail demand an audit, a recount, or a standing count; the vote was accepted, and we moved on to the next Motion.

    The events at the April 13th Town Meeting session did not impugn the accuracy of Electronic Voting, but the possibility that some members were voting with handsets issued to members who'd left the building was understandably disconcerting for passionate advocates of a Motion defeated by less than a 7% margin.

    If a Motion you'd been passionately advocating were similarly defeated and you noticed known opponents in possession of multiple handsets, you'd likely have reacted in a similar fashion. You might have demanded a standing count to ensure "one voter, one vote"; few things make Town Meeting less enjoyable than standing around for 30 minutes while we do that.

    So yes, I am absolutely dedicated to the strict adherence of rules designed to assure all members that no member can cast more than one vote. Should someone be ejected from Town Meeting for leaving a handset with his or her spouse while visiting the restroom? Of course not; a reminder would be sufficient. Should someone in possession of one or more handsets issued to members no longer present in the building be ejected? In a heartbeat.

    Action is clearly required to make the rules even more clear, and ensure that every member of Town Meeting is aware of them. ELVIS is on it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    The events at the April 13th Town Meeting session did not impugn the accuracy of Electronic Voting, but the possibility that some members were voting with handsets issued to members who'd left the building was understandably disconcerting for passionate advocates of a Motion defeated by less than a 7% margin.

    If a Motion you'd been passionately advocating were similarly defeated and you noticed known opponents in possession of multiple handsets, you'd likely have reacted in a similar fashion. You might have demanded a standing count to ensure "one voter, one vote"; few things make Town Meeting less enjoyable than standing around for 30 minutes while we do that.
    The article in question failed by a vote of 167-191. To pass, 25 fewer votes would have been required (we would have had to have had only 166 valid votes since a tie would have been a failure). In other words, it would have required that 25 votes out of 166 voters be fraudulent, or 15% of the no voters. Is anyone really suggesting that 15% of the voters opposed voted fraudulently (when not even one such vote was observed). Of course, we would need to add one extra vote for each voter who voted in favor of the article who might have voted fraudulently.

    I know with a big crowd standing counts are just terrible, but if it takes 30 minutes to count 358 votes then we clearly need a better system for counting standing votes. With that few, for example, old-school "counting off" would work (forget all those separate tellers counting and going to the mic and reporting their tally). It would take no more than a couple of seconds per vote.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Should someone be ejected from Town Meeting for leaving a handset with his or her spouse while visiting the restroom? Of course not; a reminder would be sufficient.
    A reminder to do what? To bring their handset with them into the bathroom? Or what do you want people to do when they get up briefly, but intend to come back?

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Should someone in possession of one or more handsets issued to members no longer present in the building be ejected? In a heartbeat.
    Just please be careful here about what "possession" is - we don't want to eject somebody because the person sitting next to them left and forgot their handset. If someone sees an extra handset, they should bring it over to a teller -- but let's make sure we don't arrest them when they are en route!

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Action is clearly required to make the rules even more clear, and ensure that every member of Town Meeting is aware of them. ELVIS is on it.
    That meeting was on April 30. What did the committee decide?
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 05-03-2015 at 04:54 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    The article in question failed by a vote of 167-191. To pass, 25 fewer votes would have been required (we would have had to have had only 166 valid votes since a tie would have been a failure). In other words, it would have required that 25 votes out of 166 voters be fraudulent, or 15% of the yes voters. Is anyone really suggesting that 15% of the voters in favor voted fraudulently (when not even one such vote was observed).
    Given that some members were reported to possess multiple handsets and one member was photographed in that state, no one can be certain. We shouldn't have to speculate, as you are doing and as others have done.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    A reminder to do what? To bring their handset with them into the bathroom? Or what do you want people to do when they get up briefly, but intend to come back?
    The Moderator's Rules encourage members to keep their handsets with them unless they intend to leave the building, in which case they should return that handset. Providing secure storage for handsets whose owners are visiting the bathroom was one of the suggestions made during last week's ELVIS meeting.


    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    Just please be careful here about what "possession" is - we don't want to eject somebody because the person sitting next to them left and forgot their handset. If someone sees an extra handset, they should bring it over to a teller -- but let's make sure we don't arrest them when they are en route!
    Assessing the circumstances and choosing the appropriate action are exclusively the Moderator's responsibilities.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    That meeting was on April 30. What did the committee decide?
    We considered 15 suggestions for preventing proxy voting submitted in various venues beforehand, and heard ~10 addition suggestions from members of ELVIS and members of the public in attendance. After discussion and additional public comment, each member of ELVIS recommended a specific set of actions for the Moderator to take; the combined result will be presented to the Moderator. Minutes will be made public after they are approved during the next ELVIS meeting.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Given that some members were reported to possess multiple handsets and one member was photographed in that state, no one can be certain. We shouldn't have to speculate, as you are doing and as others have done.
    Right. Ha, you got me in a Catch-22 there. I can ignore the speculation others are doing (and essentially let them have free rein with widespread fraud allegations) or I have to speculate myself. But (at least here) you are right - I do not have to speculate. You and I have agreed that there is no evidence that there was any fraud. So let's put that question to rest.

    As for being certain going forward, as I've said before, I think we all support improving electronic voting procedures to tighten them up and eliminate the possibility and even the appearance of fraud.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    The Moderator's Rules encourage members to keep their handsets with them unless they intend to leave the building, in which case they should return that handset. Providing secure storage for handsets whose owners are visiting the bathroom was one of the suggestions made during last week's ELVIS meeting.
    Sounds like a good plan. Also, those sanitary wipes.


    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Assessing the circumstances and choosing the appropriate action are exclusively the Moderator's responsibilities.
    Quite right, though he is open to suggestions. I'm sure he will make every effort to both be both reasonable and thorough.


    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    We considered 15 suggestions for preventing proxy voting submitted in various venues beforehand, and heard ~10 addition suggestions from members of ELVIS and members of the public in attendance. After discussion and additional public comment, each member of ELVIS recommended a specific set of actions for the Moderator to take; the combined result will be presented to the Moderator. Minutes will be made public after they are approved during the next ELVIS meeting.
    Great! I'm sure the result will be better processes and rules than before. Thanks for all your work in this regards.
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 05-04-2015 at 07:43 AM.

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