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On this page are comments that support SB-2. Please feel free to post your own comments in support of SB-2 here for all to see.

11 responses

26 12 2007
myway1950

Town should keep SB 2

To the editor:

I respectfully urge the voters of Wakefield to vote no for Article 2 of the Wakefield town warrant on March 8. It would eliminate SB 2 voting.

Attendance statistics clearly support my view of effectiveness and desirability of continuing with the process of SB 2. In addition, I find that individual town departments have consistently gained the highest voter percentage of yes votes. They are highway, safety department and Board of Selectmen.

For the past seven years I have recorded votes for all articles on each town warrant. Spreadsheets are available. I have averaged all yes votes, no votes and total votes (not including blanks) for all articles voted upon as part of the town of Wakefield warrant.

In support of SB 2, I offer the following performance data. These data have been collected over the past seven years. They are shown as averages.

Average number of articles voted upon annually is 31. Average percent of articles passed is 81 percent. Average percent of voters voting is 93.7 percent. Average number of votes cast per meeting is 773. Data strongly supports that voters do understand very well what they are voting for.

Remember that we now have experienced seven positive years of larger numbers of voter participation. A couple of years after SB 2 became an option for New Hampshire towns, voters recognized the comfort level of voting privately in a booth without having to come back later in the evening and debate the warrant.

New Hampshire Town and City magazine, published by New Hampshire Municipal Association, printed an article titled, “Town Meeting in New Hampshire: Will it survive?” (See also, “The New England Town Meeting, University of Chicago Press”.)

Studies compared town meetings throughout New England and compared types of state-permitted secret balloting options. A major revelation was that as population increases in New England voter participation decreases. The SB 2 process was chosen as best approach, however.

Wakefield adopted SB 2 in 1997. Wakefield’s population has increased 30 percent over the past 10 years. Wakefield usually attracts 180-200 voters at deliberative sessions now. I respectfully disagree with rescinding SB 2 as proposed by our Board of Selectmen.

Debate is permitted as well as amendments. The process is the same as in old-style Town Meeting. Before SB 2, Wakefield used to garner 200 or so voters. SB 2 now records 500 to 1000 voters.

Please, vote no on Article 2 on March 8.

Paul H. McNally

27 12 2007
myway1950

Hi Don,

The main reason I prefer the SB2 form of Town Government:
I strongly believe that the spirit of democracy is upheld in the privacy of the voting booth. Voting in a Town meeting has many negatives and I’ll list a few:

*First negative that comes to mind is that those who have a concern will show up in numbers, vote as a block and once that item is discussed they leave. Leaving only a few people to decide the “faith” of the Town. That is not a democracy when decisions are made by special interests groups and the few. 

*Another negative is that lifestyles have changed and many can not make the Town meeting because of work, children sports/activities, or they may be just tired and really don’t want to spend their day off at a meeting. 

*It is difficult to vote against the Fire or Police departments’ warrant articles when you are in the same room with the Fire/Police chief and their officers. One has to wonder if they will hold it against you because they see you as not on their side.

*And then the reality – it is human nature to not want to be at odds with your neighbors when you just don’t agree with their perceptions of the issue(s) and most will avoid discourse and “go along” rather than deal with the uncomfortableness. Or better yet, don’t waste your time by attending a meeting because you know your perception will be invalidated.

The SB2 form of government requires a Deliberative Session where residents have the opportunity to learn about the Town and School budgets and the warrant articles that will be on the ballot. This allows an exchange between the Town officials and the citizens so that everyone understands what is on the ballot and have the opportunity to ask questions and state concerns. Residents can then go home and hopefully think about the pro’s and con’s and maybe get more clarification on issues from Town officials.

(Of course, it also helps for Town officials to be proactive and go beyond the Deliberative Session to ensure that all residents are informed. In our Town, the Board of Selectmen send out information about the warrant articles and submit press releases so that whether you attended the Deliberative Session or not, you are kept in the information loop.)

Then, on election day, the citizens vote their conscience and their politics in the privacy of the voting booth. We all pay taxes and because of this, we should all have the opportunity to place our vote without having to justify our reasons or fear sanctions.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that there are positives to the Town Meeting format. It would be nice to return to how it use to be – all residents attending the Town meeting and engaging in civil and not so civil discourse about the Town spending and other issues, sometimes staying until the “wee” hours of the night. This is the “ideal” government for many. The ideal is a fantasy and not the reality that takes in consideration the negatives stated above.

Thoughts from one citizen,
Emily Creighton
North Hampton, NH
(The writer teaches at UNH)

27 12 2007
myway1950

Hi Don,
Your email was passed on to me by one of our selectmen. Soliciting the opinions of others who have experience with the SB2 form of government is an excellent idea. However, there are some other invaluable sources of objective information (or objectively presented information) that you should review as well. 

A study on the subject by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy can be found at http://www.unh.edu/nhcpps/sb2at5.pdf.

An excellent NPR segment on Municipalities, Cities and Regions: How we Govern as we Grow or http://www.nhpr.org/node/8919

In my opinion and experience, either form of government has its positives and negatives. However, I personally prefer the SB2 form of government because it:
1) provides the greatest opportunity for all citizens to participate in deciding issues that affect their futures,
2) provides an opportunity for reflection and a prolonged community discussion of the issues “over the back fence”, in a variety of environments, and through a variety of mediums of exchange of ideas and information,
3) allows for the freedom for dissention in the privacy of the voting booth,
4) provides less of an opportunity for anyone to manipulate the voters and abuse the system. 

Some will cite that the Town Meeting form of government has advantages that include an “informed” and “involved” body of voters participating in the deliberations, thus leading to better decisions. The idea that the town meeting format makes for more informed voters and better decisions is, in my opinion, without merit.  First, I don’t believe that those who care to take the time to vote are completely uninformed. If they believe they cannot make an informed decision, they will usually abstain from voting on a ballot issue, or vote it down because they don’t want the tax rate to increase, which is a completely valid choice. Second, Town Meeting is not the sole method available for town officials to engage, educate and inform the voters, and without watchful observance of the process throughout the year of the issues and formulation of the ballot items an audience is hardly an “involved” group. If we find that our voters are uniformed, or believe that they would have voted another way if only they had enough information or the right information, then we as leaders simply must do a better job communicating the issues to our constituents.

In my experience, presence at the meeting does not necessarily lead to better decisions by the voters. In fact, this forum is rarely “fair and balanced”. At its worst, it can be manipulated in order to present a very partial view of the issues, to paint an inaccurate picture, and to spread misinformation. It can do this just as effectively as the rumor mill does, if not more so, since community leaders are seen as authority figures. The moderator, Selectmen and Budget Committee control the Town Meeting agenda, content, and discussions. As such, it is unlikely that pertinent information will ever be presented or discussed, if any or all members of this officiating group disagrees with conflicting information, finds it (or the deliverer) controversial, or if the information presented will defeat any “pet” ballot issues.  

There are several problems with both the Town Meeting and the deliberative session portion of the SB2 format, but it is more a problem of leadership and how we interact as neighbors and as community citizens than it is a problem of the form of government:  I have witnessed selectmen removing information (an abridged version of the Local Government Center’s 2005 salary survey) because it was not pre-approved by them for distribution at the meeting and could possibly influence the vote on a particular warrant article. I have witnessed officials vilifying the reputations of those who stand up, speak their minds, present information that is counter to their views, who have a difference of opinion or who simply disagree. I have observed voters who choose not to participate or refuse to speak their minds out of fear of retribution. I have witnessed abuse of the power to modify of the budgets by both selectmen and citizens alike by means of presenting only one side of an issue, by grandstanding, by claiming they did not know an answer to a question and by outright fabrication as well. At least, with a delay between the vote and the deliberative session, there is time for misinformation to be corrected and for facts to come to light. These officiates are the same people that put forward the ballot issues for the voters to deliberate – they are hardly impartial and rarely objective.  More often than not, these officiates are of the mind set that everything they have put on the ballot should be approved.  Under the town meeting format, voters must publicly acknowledge their dissent by voting in the open, or they must go along with their friends and neighbors out of concern for admonition. In addition, the Town Meeting format has greater chance to allow abuse by blocks of “single issue” voters and it is much harder to oppose a passionate group or a vehement mob, than it is to listen politely and earnestly and yet still decide to cast an opposing vote in the privacy of the voting booth.

At least, throughout the year as the ballot issues are being formulated, the press has the ability to present information that is not subjective, and there is more time to do further research and obtain in-depth information, and there is even the opportunity for citizens to write letters to the editor and express their views, reflect on the issues, debate freely with other voters, and to refute misinformation before making a decision. There is even time to try to convince others of the rationale for one particular side of the issue over another. In the town meeting format there is pressure to conform to a perceived will of a group and to do so under the heavy influence of the leaders of the meeting. Then, when casting their vote, participants are exposed and are not afforded the privacy of the voting booth.

Finally, SB2 provides more of an opportunity for citizens to debate, for issues to be fully explored, to collaborate and make decisions as a community, for a prolonged period of time, rather than as a body of “informed” individuals who have an entire day (and only a single day at that) to devote important community issues.

Insisting that the old way is the best way, that it is, the New Hampshire Way , without providing a solid rationale for that opinion is stubborn resistance to the inevitable: change.

Laurel Pohl
North Hampton Planning Board

27 12 2007
myway1950

Hello Don:
Concerning your inquiry, I was on the committee in Amherst that achieved SB2 voting for both the town and the schools. In my opinion that system is proving to be very valuable in governing the community financial issues. As could be expected, some citizens wish that it never happened but that opinion is not held by the majority of voters in Amherst. It took about three years of intensive effort and a substantial monetary investment to bring it all together. Although most of us really enjoyed the town meetings and school meetings when we were a community of several thousand folks, it is just impossible to get a meaningful representation of voter’s views with Amherst’s present population of 12,000 in public meetings.  In short it is not fair to voters in the community to have 100 – 250 people at the meetings make all the major decisions for 12K citizens. Usually the meetings were heavily weighted in favor of special interests not at all representative of the community at large. Today all budgets, and warrants are voted on by all interested citizens in the ballot. Despite fears to the contrary, the voters do not seem to have any problem understanding the issues and can quickly vote on all the issues. Of course, it is important for town and school organizations to prepare a voter’s guide, etc. to inform voters of the issues. Some years all requested items are accepted. This year, however, nearly 1 million $ worth of nice but not necessary items were voted down. I believe this is a very important system in achieving truly representative government.
Please contact me if I can be of any further assistance.
Burt Knight, Amherst

27 12 2007
myway1950

Hello Don,

My name is Penny Arsenault and I live in Milford, NH. I saw your article in the Hollis Brookline Journal and would like to offer my opinion on SB2. Too often I am not able to attend town meetings due to a busy schedule but I try to keep up on the issues through media and conversations with friends and neighbors. When SB2 was presented in my town I jumped right on the wagon. We have been an SB2 town for several years now and I love it! I’m able to sit in the comfort of my home and review the materials at times convenient to me. I have more time to think, rethink and decide how my vote will be cast. If I have a question about any particular article I have time to investigate to get the information I need. When I go to the polls I have my “sample ballot” already filled out which means less time spent in the voting booth. SB2 should be embraced in all communities. I truly believe that once adopted, townspeople will say to themselves, “We should have done this a long time ago!”

Good luck
Penny

27 12 2007
myway1950

HELLO
I COULD TALK ABOUT THIS SUBJECT FOREVER BUT, I WILL TRY TO KEEP IT SHORT.

I WISH OUR TOWN HAD ADOPTED THE SB2 FORM OF VOTING. IT IS THE FAIREST FORM OF VOTING ON HOW YOUR TAX DOLLARS ARE SPENT, LOCALLY. NOT EVERYONE CAN MAKE IT TO THE ANNUAL MEETING. THE MEETING IS HELD ON A SATURDAY NIGHT, SOMETIMES LASTING UNTIL AFTER MIDNIGHT! MY FRIENDS WHO ARE IN THE MILITARY IN FOREIGN LANDS CAN NOT MAKE IT. MY FRIENDS WHO HAVE CHILDREN SICK AT HOME CAN NOT MAKE IT. MY SENIOR CITIZEN FRIENDS WHO GO TO SLEEP EARLY CAN NOT MAKE IT. MY FRIENDS WHO ARE IN NURSING HOMES OR HOSPITALS CAN NOT MAKE IT. MY FRIENDS WHO ARE ON EMPLOYER MANDATED BUSINESS TRIPS CAN NOT MAKE IT. MY FRIENDS WHO WORK WEEKEND NIGHT SHIFTS CAN NOT MAKE IT. MY JEWISH FRIENDS CAN NOT MAKE IT BECAUSE SATURDAY IS THEIR SABBATH DAY. MY FRIENDS WHO ARE AT WEDDINGS OR FUNERALS CAN NOT MAKE IT. MY FRIENDS WHO ARE ON FAMILY VACATIONS CAN NOT MAKE IT. MY RETIRED FRIENDS WHO GO TO WARMER CLIMATES DURING THE WINTER CAN NOT MAKE IT. ALL OF THESE PEOPLE COULD VOTE ON HOW THEIR TAXES ARE SPENT IF THEY LIVED IN AN SB2 TOWN. WHY? BECAUSE VOTERS IN SB2 TOWNS CAN VOTE BY ABSENTEE BALLOT. VOTERS IN NON-SB2 TOWNS CAN NOT VOTE BY ABSENTEE BALLOT.
THE PEOPLE WHO ARE AGAINST SB2, ARE AGAINST ALLOWING TAXPAYERS TO VOTE BY ABSENTEE BALLOT ON HOW THEIR TAXES ARE SPENT.  
THOSE PEOPLE WHO ARE AGAINST SB2 THINK THAT UNLESS YOU ATTEND THEIR MEETING, THAT YOU ARE “UNINFORMED”. THEY THINK THAT WE DO NOT TAKE THE TIME TO READ ALL THE FLYERS THEY SEND US IN THE MAIL (MOST OF THESE ARE PAID FOR WITH YOUR TAX DOLLARS). THEY THINK THAT WE ARE TOO STUPID TO PICK UP THE TOWN REPORT AND READ IT. THEY THINK WE ARE TOO STUPID TO READ THE EDITORIALS IN THE NEWSPAPERS. THEY THINK THAT WE DON’T TAKE THE TIME TO ASK OUR FELLOW CITIZENS ABOUT LOCAL ISSUES. THEY DON’T WANT TO TELL YOU THAT THE ANNUAL TOWN MEETING IS STILL HELD, UNDER SB2 LAW. THEY DON’T WANT TO TELL YOU THAT YOU CAN STILL GO TO THAT MEETING AND VOICE YOUR POINT OF VIEW. THEY DON’T WANT TO TELL YOU THAT ARTICLES ARE STILL DELIBERATED AND AMENDED.  
THEY WILL NOT TELL YOU THAT IN SB2 TOWNS, A LARGER PERCENTAGE OF VOTERS GO TO THE POLLS THAN NON-SB2 TOWNS. THEY WANT TOWN TAX MONEY TO BE SPENT BY THE “SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS” WHO SHOW UP AND THEN LEAVE RIGHT AFTER THEIR VOTE IS CAST. 
PLEASE ALLOW VOTERS WHO CAN NOT ATTEND,”SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”, THE RIGHT TO VOTE ON HOW THEIR TAX DOLLARS ARE SPENT BY, ADOPTING SB2 IN YOUR/MY TOWN!
KEITH STANTON
FREMONT, NH

27 12 2007
myway1950

Dear Mr. Chase;

I have found that SB2 voting has both advantages and
disadvantages, but on the whole is a good thing for
our community. The primary disadvantage is that fewer
voters participate in the first session of the Town
Meeting where articles are discussed and debated. Also
those that are present are acutely aware that what
they are doing is not rendering a final decision, but
preparing an article for the final vote. That changes
the dynamics of the meeting quite a bit.

The main advantages are that many more people
participate in the second session of the Town Meeting
(in our town easily 2 to 4 times as many voters as
participated in the traditional Town Meeting before we
adopted SB2 voting) and that there is a period of time
for further reflection and fact finding before the
final vote. Both are important and positive changes
that result from SB2 voting.

While many of us miss the excitement and finality of
the traditional Town Meeting, I think that overall
having SB2 voting benefits our community.

Best Regards,
Robert Dezmelyk
Newton NH

27 12 2007
myway1950

Don,
Just read your Letter to the Editor in the Union Leader. (Saturday June 2, page A10 )

I am writing from Peterborough, where we are working on converting to SB 2. Our population is over 5,000 people, which we feel to be the point where Town meeting becomes dysfunctional.
At the first attempt two years ago we were unsuccessful but got over 50%, last year were closer, but the Town Administration clouded the vote by adding an Article to form a Charter Commission.

SB 2 got more votes than the CC but not 60%, we now have a CC which was elected at a Special Election and is composed totally of Town Meeting supporters. 

I applaud your efforts and will watch your web-site closely.
Your letter gave e-mail address only, please reply ‘to all’ with web-site details.

John Clark Peterborough 

27 12 2007
myway1950

Hi Don;
I am from Gilford, N.H. we just put in SB2 a couple of years ago. It has worked very well for the voters in town. We can go to vote from 8 am to 7 pm. There are no late nights, no lines of voters going to the microphone to voice there opinion, no hassle from other people on how you voted, no reconsideration vote after everyone else is gone home on a very important vote from people in favor of the defeated article. A lot more people show up to vote than at town meeting. You are looking at thousand voters compared to two or three hundred voters. The elderly get a chance to vote without setting long periods of time in cramped seats. There are other things in favor of SB2 that I can’t remember. The bad things are you can’t argue over small items in the budget, but that is done in the two deliberative sessions before the final vote which not many people show up for, just like the town meeting type of voting. You don’t socialize with your friends and get to meet other people, but you do meet other people at the SB2 voting. To be informed about the issues you talk to town employees, elected officials, newspaper articles, opinions in the newspaper sections, budget committee members, building committees, etc.
I just enjoy going to vote now.

Arthur Stickney 
Gilford, N.H.
stickney@metrocast.net

27 12 2007
myway1950

Dear Mr. Chase,
My son Eric Barbasso is a resident of Pittsfield and he has asked me to give you my opinion as to the effectiveness of a town adapting SB-2 as the method of voting warrant articles in a town. We in Epping have had the SB-2 method for six years and I am convinced that without it our taxes would be anywhere from 15% to 20% higher than they now are. Previous to adopting the SB-2 method, the town meetings would be attended ( and stacked ) by a majority of people whose agenda was in favor of higher spending by the town and hence tax increases to the public . Most of the attendees were town employees (many teachers in the local school district ) who were the largest beneficiaries of the higher spending. They numbered possibly 150 to 200 people out of the total voting population of approximately 2900 eligible voters. So, approximately 10% of the voters determined the spending and hence taxes for the rest of us. SB-2 has allowed the PEOPLE to have a voice where there was none before.
The person most responsible for the adoption of SB-2 was Mr. Don Sisson. I have talked to him and asked if he would mind my giving his phone number to you so that if you wanted to seek his advice if you felt the need. He has kindly said yes, so if you really want the full story on adopting SB-2 for your town, he would be glad to advise you. I hope that this short e-mail is helpful.

Sal Barbasso

27 12 2007
myway1950

Don Chase:

This is a belated response to your survey re SB 2.

Here in Bedford, NH, the School District adopted Official Ballot Voting
(OBV) under SB 2 in 1996. Previously, under the Town Meeting format,
200 to 300 people attended the annual school district meetings. Now,
under SB 2 some 4500 to 6000 vote on all school district warrant
articles.

The Town Council was not petitioned to adopt SB 2 until 2005. Rather
than 25 signatures, it required 20% of those who voted at the last town
meeting. Because the petition was taken and submitted in mid-year, it
was voted on at a SPECIAL meeting rather than at the next ANNUAL
meeting. While the vote was more than the 60% required, not enough
voters turned out to vote, so the vote failed.

The Town Meeting in Bedford is an embarrassment. For the past several
years, less than 100 voters attended (including the 7 town councilors
and other town officials). The Town Council can DICTATE its wishes to
more than 14,000 registered voters by getting just 50 voters favorable
to the Council position to show up at Town Meeting. So 3/10th of 1% of
the voters make the decisons for the other 99.7%!! Of course, this is
what the Town Council wants, and what most governing bodies want. THEY
want to make the decisions, not let the VOTERS make them. Under SB 2,
there would have been 4500 to 6000 voting on the town budget and other
warrant articles voted in the open meetings.

The major advantage of OBV is MANY more voters get to vote on all
warrant articles. The only difference between OBV and the Town Meeting
is OBV conducts the meeting in TWO sessions, rather than ONE. The FIRST
is the DELIBERATIVE session, where each warrant article is discussed,
debated, and possibly amended, just as in the Towm Meeting. However,
the FINAL vote on each warrant article – as originally presented or as
amended – is voted on some 30 days later at the SECOND session on
Election Day, in the privacy of the voting booth, or by absentee ballot.

As a result MANY more people have the opportunity
to vote on all warrant articles, with up to 80% voter participation in
some towns and/or school districts, which means the vote is MORE
REPRESENTATIVE of the wishes of the voters.

Some would argue that MORE voters can and should attend Town Meeting,
rather than sacrifice their votes. However, in today’s economy and
lifestyle, while many voters can get to the polling place on Election
Day during the 12 hours or so that the polls are open, those same voters
can NOT get to a Town Meeting, whether at night on on a Saturday. Many
occupations require that people work while the Town Meeting is being
held. These include police, firefighters, truck drivers, doctors,
nurses, reporters, to name but a few.

Also, some communities do not have a facility big enough to house a
large number of voters at a Town Meeting. In Bedford, if 4500 showed up
for a Town Meeting, there would be no place to seat them all. The
present school gym has a capacity of just 1500. In SMALL towns/school
districts, SOME
may be able to accommodate ALL voters. Dixville Notch certainly can.

Opponents of OBV (governing bodies) claim that under OBV voters are
UNINFORMED. However, exit polls on Election Day show just the opposite.
Voters claim to be BETTER informed because they have had a month between
the deliberative session and to voting session to read about and discuss
the issues. Savvy government bodies inform the press and mail
information to voters giving them the pros and cons on each warrant
article.

The ONE remaining problem with OBV is the deliberative session, which is
generall poorly attended. In Bedford, about 200-300 attend the school
session. By “packing” this session, mischief can be – and is –
achieved. Warrant articles can be amended to read just the opposite of
what the original article stated, or money articles can be reduced to
just $1.00 or to ZERO. Articles can be tied to the passage or failure
of another article.

This problem can be corrected easily by legislation
that would put on the ballot the “original article,” the “amended
article.” and “neither of the above.” On
Election Day, voters would then get the chance to vote their preference,
either by a plurality, a 50% majority, or a super-majority vote.
However, for several years the NH House Municipal & County Government
Committee has “stonewalled” this simple solution to the warrant article
“amendment” problem. 

Few, if any, Towns and School Districts that have adopted OBV have
rescinded their vote and returned to Town Meetings.

A comparison of OBV and Town Meeting form of gevernment follows:

OFFICIAL BALLOT TOWN MEETING

* TWO sessions: 1st to * ONE session to
discuss, debate, amend; discuss, debate,
2nd 30 days later to vote amend and vote

* Voting 30 days after * Voting after long,
debate allows time tiring debate leaves
to study issues no time for sound
judgment

* Vote at polls or by * Can ONLY vote at
absentee ballot meeting

* Minutes in a voting * Hours at a meeting
booth or with
absentee ballot

* Up to 80% voter * Less than 1% to 5%
participation of voters at meeting

* Privacy of vote * Open voting subject
allows one to vote to intimidation,
one’s conscience acrimony, high
emotions

* VOTERS decide the * Special interests
issues often prevail

* Absentee ballots * NO absentee votes,
mean ALL can vote so many voters are
disenfranchised

* ALL warrant articles * Many articles often
voted by official ballot tabled, not voted

There is MUCH more I could send to you if you’ll send me your mailing
address.

I hope this brief analysis gives you a better understanding of the
advantages of Official Ballot Voting over the Town Meeting.

Roy H. Stewart, Past Chairman

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