Full disclosure: I count Tom Murphy as a friend. I think he’s a terrific Town Moderator. Of course I haven’t lived in Ipswich long enough to have experienced any other Town Moderator, and where I come from they don’t have Town Moderators, so I may not be the best judge of Town Moderators. But from everything I can see, Tom is totally earning what we pay him, which is just under 68-1/2¢ a day.
Anyway, I’m inclined to trust Moderator Murphy’s judgment, especially when he’s judging a matter I don’t know much about, and this would include electronic keypad voting in Town Meeting.
The idea was originally proposed by the great gadfly-citizen Phil Goguen; it was one of the rare moments when Phil has supported anything that would cost any money: The shock of it actually showed up on the Richter scale.
FinCom and the Select Board have waved off keypad voting in the past because of the expense. To his credit, Moderator Murphy kept an open mind and explored the possibility, ultimately deciding that the voters should give it a whirl. The test, scheduled for our May 14 Town Meeting, will be free, compliments of the keypad-seller. The idea is, once you taste it for free, you can’t help but go back for more, even if you have to pay for it. It’s like cocaine in my old neighborhood in Chicago, or those bits of Asian food on toothpicks they give you in the food court at the mall.
I hope the keypad-voting test goes well. I hope with the electronics, Town Meeting suddenly makes the jump into hyperspace, and the evening wraps up so quickly, the Town’s citizens become instantly addicted to warp speed.
And let me just suggest, by way of encouraging my fellow voters to relax and give this new drug a try, that I’m pretty sure this keypad-voting test is the result of scrupulous study and research by our diligent Town Moderator. If I know Tom, I feel almost certain that he is bringing us this test vote onlyafter reviewing and perhaps even personally experimenting with other forms of voting.
You realize, of course, that down through history, groups have been deciding issues by many different methods. Ipswich is fond of
(a) shouting “Aye!” or “Nay!” (a test of the citizens’ lungs and the Moderator’s ears),
(b) holding up brightly colored cards (a test of the tellers’ eyes, and their ability to count without their fingers) or,
(c) when necessary, keeping your neighbor from knowing the dark secrets of your soul by filling out a paper ballot.
But there are other options. For example:
Fighting. In olden days, public questions were sometimes decided by combat. I mean reallyolden days. People who felt one way chose a champion to representing them in a one-on-one fight; people who felt the other way chose their own champion, and hoped that their guy could beat the other guy. Think how much quicker it would be if we arrived at Town Meeting and, instead of 12 Articles, we simply go 12 rounds. The “aye” side chooses Mark Warner, the “nay” side chooses — well, just stay on the “aye” side, because the “nay” side is in trouble. Anyway, in the end, Moderator Murphy did not consider combat to be a practical choice for the Town of Ipswich. At least not officially. How you settle your issues with your next-door neighbor is your own business.
Smoke. Another olden-times communication device: smoke signals. Impractical at Town Meeting, you say? Not so. With the recent “vaping” craze comes the inevitable “vape-voting” system: I think you suck for “yea,” blow for “nay.” Or maybe it’s the other way around. In any case, I’m sure if the Town Moderator explored the possibility of vape-voting, he ruled it out for very good reasons.
Luck. The NFL has many layers of tie-breaking procedures to decide who gets into the playoffs; the official document governing tie-breaking is a 65-point outline nearly 1,200 words long. If two teams have the same record of wins and losses but also tied on a bunch of other, more obscure records — like the most total points scored minus points allowed among just the teams in their own conference — the 12th and final tie-breaker is literally a coin toss. Which is really, really attractive to me when it comes to Town Meeting, especially the two-night, 11 p.m. variety. I get dreamy thinking about the clock inching toward 10 p.m. and the Town Moderator saying, “Okay, folks, I got a nickel here. The Town Manager will call it in the air.” Heads, we build a new school. Tails, we sell Little Neck. Life is simple!
Miscellaneous.Of course the list of voting formats over the course of history is endless.
- Rhythmic clapping.
- Leaning. Leaning works. If you already have tellers counting votes, why not save on paper and just have “ayes” lean one direction, “nays” in the other?
- In some primitive areas, each voter receives a dove upon entering the forum, then you release your dove at the proper “yea” or “nay” moment. (The problem was that tellers had to count votes very, very fast. Also: high cost of birds.)
- Hippie communes used to vote by waving cigarette lighters, after which it caught on at rock concerts.
But no. Keypads it shall be. Let the voters hold their handhelds and experience electronic ecstasy.
The May 14th Town Meeting will be fun. It will be an adventure. Arrive unbiased. Don’t wear gloves. Be ready to tap your keypad.
And by all means, get there early. Those slick keypads could have this thing all wrapped up by the time you find a parking space.
Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, which has almost been reached by modern technology. Follow him here at Outsidah.com by clicking “Follow.”