Middlesex votes against Australian ballot
03/07/07 12:00AM By Steve Zind
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(Host) Middlesex confronted the controversial issue of moving away from the town's traditional floor discussion and vote on budgets and going instead to an Australian ballot system.
As VPR's Steve Zind reports, both sides of the argument got a thorough airing last night.
(Speaker) "There is also in this town a lot of people that can't even come here and vote. Is that fair to them? No!"
(Zind) That was a sentiment expressed by many who supported the change. They argued that requiring attendance at town meeting to vote on money matters shut out too many people, including those with disabilities and with commitments to their jobs or their country.
(Speaker) "My son is in the military and he cannot be here. My daughter is in college out of state and she cannot be here. Yet this is their future that you're discussing but yet they cannot vote on it."
(Zind) But those who favored keeping town meeting as it is had their reasons as well.
(Speaker) "As far as people who are disabled not being able to come here? I myself am disabled. I understand that but the answer is not to just say we have to do Australian ballot, the answer is to come up with solutions so that it is completely accessible to everyone."
(Speaker) "If we were to vote with an Australian ballot and items were turned down that were essential to a town, we would have to schedule a second vote. This costs money."
(Zind) The debate lasted well over an hour in the overcrowded and overheated town hall. Some favored the Australian ballot because they like the privacy of the voting booth. They argued that the discomfort of disagreeing with your neighbors in a floor debate actually stifles town meeting discussion.
(Speaker) "And it causes a lot of intimidation for people. I would look around the room and I would see a lot of people just clam right up when it came to vote."
(Zind) But the counter argument ruled the day.
(Speaker) "What if our founding fathers felt like, Oh I don't want to get up and say something against the Crown because they might come chop my head off.' We'd be under British rule. And that's why I spent 20 years in the Air Force defending my right to vote and come to town meeting and say my feeling on the items on the ballot. Thank you."
(Zind) In the end, the tally was 157 for keeping the floor meeting as is, 76 for changing it.
In Middlesex, I'm Steve Zind for VPR news.