The 2014 fall town meeting held four electronic votes: two at the first session November 18 and two at the second and final session November 19. Problems previously cropped up at the 2014 annual town meeting in May and June. There were more discrepancies in records from the 2014 fall town meeting in November.
This time there were no attempts to use the voting system for “informal” counting. However, despite commitments to provide results the day following a session, no results were posted on Brookline’s municipal Web site until the afternoon of November 24, five days after the second and final session.
Comparisons of records: Electronic voting results were displayed at town meeting on a large projection screen. They were captured on video recordings of both the first session and second session by Brookline Interactive Group, along with declarations of results for official records by the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby. The video recordings are available to the public from the Web site of Brookline Interactive.
At the first session, Mr. Gadsby declared the vote on a referral motion proposed under Article 12: 65 yes and 138 no, agreeing with totals displayed to town meeting on the large projection screen. The totals from results posted on the municipal Web site were instead: 65 yes and 141 no.
At the first session, Mr. Gadsby declared the vote on a zoning change proposed under Article 12 (the main motion): 60 yes and 146 no, agreeing with totals displayed to town meeting on the large projection screen. The totals from results posted on the municipal Web site were instead: 60 yes and 147 no.
At the second session, Mr. Gadsby declared the vote on a resolution proposed under Article 15: 110 yes and 83 no, agreeing with totals displayed to town meeting on the large projection screen. The totals from results posted on the municipal Web site were instead: 111 yes and 83 no.
At the second session, Mr. Gadsby declared the vote on an alternative resolution proposed by the Advisory Committee under Article 19: 20 yes and 145 no. So far, records of this vote have not appeared on the municipal Web site at all.
Unreliable results: After practice with the current electronic voting system at four previous town meetings, at the 2014 fall town meeting Brookline again failed to achieve reliable results. Discrepancies are clear on each of the three electronic votes reported. Unexplained changes to records had apparently been made, after town meeting, in computer files purporting to represent town meeting results. Those might have been connected with unexplained delays of five and six days in posting records on the municipal Web site.
None of the discrepancies was large enough to affect an action at the recent town meeting. That may be luck. Close votes at past town meetings could have been clouded. At a town meeting in 1972, for example, the late Sumner Kaplan–a former chair of the Board of Selectmen, state representative and district judge–proposed to combine the police and fire departments into a public safety department. The controversial proposal failed on a tie vote. A single-vote discrepancy could have clouded that result.
If Brookline had a reliable electronic voting system, allowing town meeting members to change recorded positions after a vote has been declared would be a highly dubious practice. It opens an avenue through which town meeting results can become clouded after a town meeting is over, with potentials for protracted disputes or lawsuits over close votes. Brookline does not have a reliable electronic voting system. A week after the 2014 fall town meeting, one of the four electronic votes has not even been reported, and the results for the three reported votes disagree with the moderator’s declarations at town meeting.
Votes shown as “absent”: Of 744 individual votes tallied, 115 were “absent.” Some could be town meeting members who had checked in but did not cast votes. The average number of “absent” votes was about 7 per precinct. Absentees were most prevalent in Precinct 14, with 13 “absent” votes, and in Precinct 15, with 16 “absent” votes.
– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 27, 2014
Town of Brookline, November 18, 2014, electronic vote results, dated November 24, 2014
Brookline Interactive Group, 2014 fall town meeting, second session, November 19, 2014
Brookline Interactive Group, 2014 fall town meeting, first session, November 18, 2014
Fall town meeting: tobacco controls, resolution derby, Brookline Beacon, November 20, 2014
Fall town meeting: bylaw changes, no new limits on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, November 18, 2014
2014 annual town meeting: electronic voting issues, Brookline Beacon, June 17, 2014
Brookline 2014 fall town meeting, electronic votes posted as of November 24, 2014