Is Town Meeting attendance too low?

June 14, 2024

Do too few of us come to Concord Town Meeting? That has been a point argued recently.

Fortunately we now have a Town Meeting Study Committee. This question of size is already a persistent topic there. Can we set the scene for that work?

Our open Town Meeting is a legislature. The core work of a legislature is deliberation, to debate new rules, finally capped by a vote. The principal work of the meeting, then, looks to active discussion among those present.

Compare numbers of our participants with legislatures where we are familiar. The U.S. House of Representatives has 435 members. Lexington Town Meeting has a max of 203. These are representative bodies, not open like ourselves. But their task is the same, no different; like ours, the core work is deliberation.

Concord 2024 Annual Town Meeting the last night had 439, more than the U.S. House. The first two nights we had, give or take, the order of 1,000. In simple words, that is a large body to conduct deliberation, far more than democratically adequate, with potential for most robust deliberation.

Quickly we see, the issue is not numbers participating — but, are those in attendance representative of the town as a whole? Another Massachusetts town undertook a serious look at this question, using I believe 20 years of their voter data, comparing Town Meeting with votes at the polls. The conclusion? Their Town Meeting participation was indeed representative.

Why does this matter?

We hope that our work on Town Meeting this next year will be grounded in this institution’s function as a legislature. On the question of size, further, may we enjoy a serious look back at our history, whether Concord TM has been representative, or not, building from there.

David Allen

Heaths Bridge Road