Westford Introduces Electronic Voting Devices at Special Town Meeting

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Editor’s note: Special Town Meeting opens on Monday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Abbot School, 25 Depot St., Westford.

The handheld electronic devices are smaller than a playing card and have just one function: to capture a vote.

Until now, Westford’s town meetings have been decided by: a voice vote, a count of raised hands, and a count of people standing in favor or opposed to an issue.

But on Monday, Oct. 28, the town will distribute about 450 electronic devices that will streamline the voting process and accurately report the vote. The device offers three voting choices. It has a button for yes, a button for no and a button for abstaining. A small screen on the unit confirms whether a vote was received. Everyone attending gets a vote at Westford town meetings.

In all, 13 articles will be acted upon.

The voting device that will be used on Oct. 28 is distributed by Orlando, Florida-based Options Technologies which is lending Westford enough for a trial run with a quorom of 200 required. The purchase price is $40 each.

“It’s really simple and it’s secure,” said company CEO Mark Fite. “It expedites the process of tabulation during Town Meeting.”

The idea of using a clicker for registering votes sprung from the March annual Town Meeting when a number of head counts to clarify hot button votes slowed the progress so much that Town Manager Jodi Ross announced she would look into electronic devices.

“I’m proposing a non-binding resolution to bring electronic voting to our next Town Meeting,” Ross said, noting that she was making her proposal as a Lawson Road resident and not as the town manager.

With an office in Natick, Option Technologies was able to lend out a few and respond more quickly than other vendors when asked for additional devices, said Spuhler.

“We asked every vendor how quickly can you get us more and the only one that could was Option Technologies,” she added.

Several towns across the state are already using the devices, according to Town Moderator Susan McNeill Spuhler. Among them are Acton, Concord, Dover, Arlington, Belmont, Brookline, Billerica and Chelmsford.

Fite said the town of Wayland jumped in nine years ago.

“They log every vote and how much time gets saved,” he said.

Westford’s Director of Technology Mike Wells said the units are safe from hackers who might want to affect the voting.

“They use a proprietary protocol so it’s not participating in a WiFi network and its data is encrypted,” he said.

Voters will receive their units as they enter the Abbot School gym to sign in. Each unit is uniquely identified, said Wells.

Special Town Meeting voters will get two practice votes before the Oct. 28 meeting officially begins.

Asked what she preferred when deciding votes, Spuhler said, “I like the voice vote. I feel the voice is the soul of Town Meeting. But I’m also a technologist and I appreciate the accuracy and speed of a device like that.”

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