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Jaffrey to consider adopting ballot voting

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 2/12/2020 9:12:05 PM

Town Meeting voters in Jaffrey have a decision to make this March about how they will vote in the future: Stick to a traditional Town Meeting format, or adopt poll voting for all town issues.

A petition warrant article, submitted by resident Peter Chamberlain, asks voters if they wish to adopt RSA 40:13, commonly called SB-2, after the 1996 senate bill which first outlined the process. 

Chamberlain said he’s seen Town Meeting participation decline in his lifetime residency, and in particular, has seen few young people participating.

“Last year, I looked around, and I saw less than a dozen people under 50,” Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain said in looking at recent turnouts to Town Meeting verses those who voted at the polls in the same year, it’s clear there is more participation at the polls.

“The younger generation just doesn’t have the time to spend upwards of four to six hours on a Saturday at Town Meeting,” Chamberlain said. “In this day and age, everyone’s on the go and busy.”

Currently, Jaffrey runs a Town Meeting system, where towns hold a budget hearing prior to Town Meeting, and then discuss, amend, and vote on most issues in person during Town Meeting in March. Certain items, such as voting for town officers, zoning amendments, and other issues required by law, appear on a ballot for poll voting.

SB-2 requires all warrant articles to appear on the ballot. 

Instead of Town Meeting, residents are able to meet in person to discuss and amend articles during a deliberative session, held about a month before voting. In the time between deliberative session and poll voting, voters can consider arguments or do additional research to answer questions that may have been raised during discussion before they vote.

Where in a Town Meeting format, if voters fail to pass the proposed town budget, the meeting will not end until the voting public agrees upon a number, in a SB-2 format, the town must prepare a “default” budget, which will be adopted if the proposed budget fails. The default budget keeps town departments level-funded, but subtracts any one-time expenses, and adds any increases approved by voters in a previous year, such as salary contract increases.

Nearby towns of Rindge, New Ipswich and Bennington have adopted the SB-2 system, as have the school systems of Mason, Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative and ConVal.

Advocates of SB-2 point to the number of voters who cast ballots at the polls compared to the lower turnout of Town Meeting, arguing it leads to a more inclusive process. It also allows residents to vote by absentee ballot, where Town Meeting requires a voter be present.

Town Meeting advocates, however, argue that voter turnout to deliberative session – where articles can be amended – is so low that a very small number of voters may be able to completely de-fund an article or make other radical changes, and that most voters don’t hear the context of articles before going into the polling booth. In New Ipswich, Bennington and Rindge, voter turnout to the deliberative session has typically been less than 3 percent. 

The article requires a three-fifths ballot vote to pass. For the first time this year, the state legislature has allowed the ballot vote to be taken at Town Meeting, rather than requiring it to be a ballot issue during Tuesday’s voting.

Jaffrey has scheduled a public hearing on the issue at the town office on Monday, Feb. 24 at 6 p.m.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT. 




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