Support Town Meeting Article 27 for a fairer legislative process

April 24, 2024

Warrant Article 27 enables voting on Town Meeting motions in a special election instead of requiring physical presence and endurance through the hours of debate. I ask for your support because town government is subject to a small minority willing to sit through hours of presentations — a high hurdle. Especially for those with young children, who work during Town Meeting hours or are too sick to attend, requiring the large time commitment of Town Meeting participation is fundamentally anti-democratic and antiquated. Special election voting on Town Meeting articles has worked well for nearly 30 years in New Hampshire: it’s time to consider this reform here.

The clerk shows attendance rate has fallen to 6%, about one third of town election turnout. Yet measured attendance rates overstate the average voting level because most attendees leave after debate on the topics of most interest to them — with only 317 of 14,000 voters present for a recorded vote on leaf-blowing in 2023.

The hurdles to voting exceed the worst voter suppression tactics such as limiting voting locations resulting in hour-long voting lines. While bad-faith measures such as limiting the number of ballot drop-boxes or early voting days result in court challenges, there has been no objection here to the far greater hurdles of in-person Town Meeting.

Some contend that Town Meeting attendance should not be compared to election voting because participants act as “legislators.” Yet comparing metrics on federal and state legislatures show Town Meeting has little in common with them: Congress has a 2% absenteeism rate. State and federal legislatures have 51% quorum requirements ensuring their actions are majoritarian.

It’s argued the “deliberative process” of Town Meeting is indispensable. But The Concord Bridge affords opportunity for community debate. The town could supplement this with online threaded discussions so citizens could exchange views more easily. Requiring in-person deliberation is a poor tradeoff for low attendance levels resulting in a grossly anti-majoritarian and deeply flawed governance process.

This reform would be a long-needed update to Town Meeting processes that seem more based on nostalgia for the Norman Rockwell era. While a new committee proposes to spend a year studying fixes to Town Meeting, it’s difficult to imagine what benefit incremental measures could bring in comparison, with decades of successful experience in our neighboring state.

Dinos Gonatas

Old Marlboro Road

Sponsor, Article 27