Published in the October 26, 2017 edition.


WAKEFIELD — A questionable voting incident at a Town Meeting in a central Massachusetts community has served to reinforce Town Clerk Betsy Sheeran’s faith in the tried and true way that Wakefield counts Town Meeting votes.

The town of Westborough uses hand-held electronic voting devices to count votes cast at its Town Meeting. But at a Special Town Meeting last week, one man was seen using two of the devices to vote on a zoning measure that was on the warrant. Other voters took note, and one went so far as to snap the man’s photo. The photographer then showed the photo to the town moderator, who asked the police chief to investigate.

The man’s wife had apparently left the meeting and later returned, but at the time the vote was taken, she was not sitting next to her husband or operating her own voting device. So, her husband took it upon himself to vote on her behalf.

The man said that he was acting on his wife’s authority to cast the extra vote. But Westborough Town Clerk Wendy Mickel later told a reporter that voters are clearly instructed when they are given the voting devices as they check in to Town Meeting that they are not to share devices.

The zoning measure in question passed overwhelmingly, so the questionable vote did not affect the outcome. But the incident has raised the question of whether Westborough needs more stringent guidelines and safeguards for electronic voting at Town Meeting.

Wakefield Town Clerk Betsy Sheeran says that Wakefield’s old-school system of counting Town Meeting votes works pretty well.

“We have our check-in procedure and we have out vote counters who are duly sworn in,” she said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Sheeran says that she was approached at one point by representatives of a company that provides systems for electronic voting at Town Meeting.

“I took their literature but I am not interested in that right now,” Sheeran said. The main thing for her, she said, is to make sure that the upcoming Nov. 6 Regular Town Meeting is as organized as possible. To that end, she will be meeting on Nov. 1 with Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio, Town Moderator William Carroll, Finance Committee Chairman Daniel Sherman and Town Counsel Thomas Mullen to go over logistics and procedures.

Sheeran is not ready to dive into electronic Town Meeting voting just yet.

“There have been too many glitches in the communities that have done it and I’m not about to put ourselves in harm’s way,” she said. “All we need is a glitch,” she added, noting that under the current system a recount is always an option if a vote total is ever questioned.

“I think what we do now is tried and true and I would just as soon stick with that right now,” she said.

Beyond Town Meeting, Sheeran said that her focus is on preparing for the new voting machines that will be ready for the spring 2018 Town Election. She would also like to see Wakefield move to having just one location for voting.