New Solutions For Town Meeting


To the Editor and to Manchester Voters,

As we begin preparation for two town meetings this spring, I write to report on an unsolved mystery at the meeting last fall.  Although I have no solution for the mystery, I do have a plan to address the issue in the future. 

After the fall meeting ended, the Town Clerk and I discovered that the number of votes cast under each warrant article was significantly lower than the number of voters who checked in.  228 voters had checked in, and the highest recorded vote was 152.  The average was 140.  At previous meetings, the number of votes on every motion has always been lower than the total number checked in, but the difference in the fall was much greater than usual.

There is no plausible explanation for the discrepancy.  The Town Clerk had checked all the handsets prior to the meeting, and the vendor’s technicians at the meeting also tested according to their protocol.  When tested, all the clickers worked properly.  When a vote is recorded, the receiving laptop sends a signal to the handset that activates a green LED and a display on the handset’s screen.  It seems very unlikely either that a significant number of those present declined to vote or that they ignored the absence of a display.  The handsets transmit and receive signals by line of sight, but there were no obstructions in the rooms that would have impeded them.  If the signals had been obstructed, moreover, the green LED and display would not have appeared on the handsets.

The laptop in the auditorium communicated with the laptop in the gymnasium so that the one I was seeing showed the combined total.  After we discovered the discrepancy, we compared the individual results on the two laptops, and they correlated.  In addition, the technician in the auditorium kept a manual list of votes there.  That also correlated with the total.  Town counsel advised that since the meeting had dissolved, the results were final.

Many voters have told me they like the privacy afforded by the electronic system.  It is more efficient than a hand count by the tellers and much more efficient than a secret ballot conducted with paper voting slips.  For these reasons, I am reluctant to abandon electronic voting.

It is critical, however, that we all have confidence in the counts.  No aspect of town meeting is more important than accurately recording votes.  Therefore, we plan to implement the following measures.

  1. Test all handsets in advance of the meeting, as we have before.
  2. At the beginning of the meeting, explain the discrepancy that occurred in the fall.
  3. Ask all voters present to activate their handsets and compare the result to the number of voters checked in.  If the number is the same or very close, we will proceed with electronic voting.  If not, we will use voter cards.
  4. Proceed with two test votes and with motions under the warrant articles.
  5. Have a volunteer track late arrivals and early departures and communicate that information to the Town Clerk so that we have a running tally of voters present.
  6. After every vote, compare the number of votes cast against the number of voters present.  If there is a shortfall of more than 10 percent on any vote, ask all voters to activate their handsets and compare that result with the number of voters checked in.  If the number is the same or very close, proceed with electronic voting.  If not, we will use voter cards.
  7. I will explain, as I have in the past, that voters who save the identification number on their handsets can go to the Town Clerk’s office after the meeting and obtain confirmation of their recorded votes.  It is important to note that neither the Town Clerk nor any other person in town government can link a specific voter to a specific handset unless the voter provides the identification number.  The town does not create a list associating those numbers with individual voters.

Residents with questions or concerns are welcome to call me at 978-526-4229 or send an email to

Sincerely yours,

Alan Wilson

Town Moderator