~Submitted by Zina Deldar
The time has come to reimagine how Town Meeting is structured. Town Meeting is inaccessible to thousands of voters, as evidenced by the difference in voter turnout between Election Day and Town Meeting. On November 8, 2022, 6,507 Bedford voters (or 61.8%) cast a ballot ( https://www.bedfordma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/1913/November-8-2022-State-Election-Unofficial-Results-PDF); in contrast, six days later, only 1,074, or 10.2% of registered electors, voted on the final, most controversial article of Special Town Meeting. The difference in voter turnout is alarming. (Even more troubling, Bedford’s quorum for Town Meeting is 100 people, less than 1% of current registered voters!) On top of that, Massachusetts’s voter rights laws do not protect employees from taking protected time off from work to participate in Town Meeting.
Town Meeting dates back to colonial times, and has not evolved with the realities of modern society. The electorate consists of caregivers; parents of young children; single parents; workers who have non-traditional work hours; the elderly or disabled who may be unable to drive late at night or sit in uncomfortable seats for hours on end; and workers who have traditional work hours, but cannot accommodate the late nights that Town Meeting requires. These individuals face substantial barriers to vote on town funding issues that directly affect their wellbeing and quality of life. For those among us who are faced with minimal to no obstacles to participate in Town Meeting, you are fortunate; however, we cannot dismiss the obstacles faced by our neighbors without also dismissing (and silencing) their perspectives on town issues.
My desire is for Town Meeting to evolve. While I recognize the administrative hurdles, I want to see Town Meeting replaced by a more accessible alternative. Some suggestions include: (1) adopt a representative Town Meeting, whereby each precinct has elected representatives who vote at Town Meeting; (2) entrust our already-elected Select Board to make funding decisions; or (3) have the electorate vote on these matters on Election Day. Option #3 was especially appealing at 11:30 p.m., when I ultimately voted by secret ballot at Special Town Meeting and recalled that just six days earlier, I voted in a matter of minutes on many topics with the convenience of Bedford’s polling site being open from 6:45 a.m. to 8 p.m.