Small Town Democracy In Action

It was Town Meeting Day here in our little town.

It is low-level democracy in action where the townsfolk vote for town officials, spending measures (town and school budget, special expenditures - police cruisers, fire trucks, plow trucks, other equipment or items – and petitioned expenditures for non-government organizations, special events, and so on), changes to zoning ordinances or town ordinances and regulations, or approving union contracts for town or school employees.

In our case, this was the second part of our two-part town meeting process, that second part being actual voting. The first part was the deliberative session last month where interested townsfolk would meet to go over all of the various warrant articles that covered the topics mentioned early, debating them, and if deemed necessary, amending them. (I wish I could say the deliberative session was well-attended, but this year there was little in the way of controversial warrant articles, so we saw maybe 70 people in attendance and there was little discussion about the 20-some warrant articles. The session lasted less than a half hour.)

Today’s voting started at 7AM and lasted until 7PM. I certainly didn’t expect a large voter turnout like we saw back in November. We usually get about a sixth to a third of the town’s registered voters showing up for Town Meeting voting unless there’s a controversial issue or two that draws out a larger number of voters. Since this year’s warrants were rather benign, I figured we’d see the usual number of voters participating this year.

In general, this is the a case where direct democracy works. The people gather to decide how their town will spend their tax dollars, what changes will be made in how the town does things, and how/if any other items of import will be handled. It works because it is such a small version of democracy. Much bigger than that and it becomes less effective. It is also what I call “intermittent democracy” since it is exercised only once a year, not every day and not for every decision that needs to be made by the various town and school officials throughout the year.

The townsfolk have done their duty until next year. They have cast their ballots and decided what the town will be doing over the next 12 months. Then the process starts all over again, just as it should.