Opinion

The Secret Ballot and the Charter

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We’ve recently seen several letters to the editor complaining that the proposed new town charter removes our sacred right to a secret ballot. It does not. Our town gets its authority to be a town and do town things from the legislature. One of the requirements is that every town has to have a charter, and to revise that charter when appropriate. The last time our charter was revised was 10 years ago in 2007. A group of about a dozen ordinary citizens met for about a year to work on charter revisions. There was plenty of opportunity to participate and at least to learn the facts. We had open, advertised meetings. We had a public hearing. The current and new charters are both on the town’s web site. Paper copies of both are available at the town office. Altogether a fair and open process.

In a traditional New England town meeting, the citizens gather on a certain day (used to be in March here), and discuss the topics relating to running the town – Most relate to the budget, some relate to other matters (such as how many chickens are allowed in the village). Basically, in almost every other town in New England, we meet once a year, discuss topics, vote and then get on with our lives.

In our 2007 charter, we changed the rules. We still have a town meeting, but it only determines what goes onto the June ballot. That June ballot is the official vote on all matters.

What did we change this time? We recognize that there are two types of items that come before the town meeting – items that affect the budget and items that don’t affect the budget. The change we made is that, under the new Charter, any and all budget items will continue to go to the June ballot for approval. For the vast majority of the town’s business then, nothing changes. The difference is that the occasional non-budget item, (such as the recent “chicken ordinance”) get settled at the town meeting.

That’s it on this topic. We taxpayers can rest assured that we still get our secret ballot – not once, but twice. Even during the town meeting, anybody on any warrant article can request a secret ballot. So even there, in front of your friends and neighbors, nobody needs to be embarrassed. And, of course, we will continue to have the secret ballot in the June ballot.

These are the facts relating to the secret ballot. If the writer had attended the many meetings of the charter review committee, or if the writer spoken with any of the members of that committee, I am sure that their fears would have been allayed.

You can get the facts for yourself. You can pick up a copy of the new charter at the town office. Or you can find it on the web at http://dover-foxcroft.org/index.asp?SEC=4607F02B-CA2D-4338-90CF-9078A03E1A96&Type=B_BASIC .

Finally, you can visit with me or any other charter commission member. I am at chrism@roadrunner.com. I’m always happy to have coffee with my neighbors!

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