Photo: Moderator Mike Widmer discussing changes to the roll call bylaw with the Select Board
The most impassioned moments of the 2019 annual Belmont Town Meeting didn’t involve a vote but how they were reported. And next week, Town Meeting members and residents will hear and comment on changes to the roll call bylaw sponsored by three mainstays of town government.
At this year’s Town Meeting a group of members sought roll call votes on the outcome of several articles including measures that passed overwhelmingly on a voice vote.
Unlike the usual aggregate vote when just the grand total of yea and nay are presented to the meeting, a roll call requires each member’s vote to be recorded and made public. With electronic voting in Belmont, member’s names are projected on the main screen for the assembly to see how each member voted.
While roll call proponents said knowing how a member voted is an expected part of representative government, others called out the rarely invoked process “harassment” and “vote shaming” by revealing who may have voted against “popular” measures.
It culminated with a vote favored by the pro-roll call caucus going down to defeat during the roll call after initially passing with an aggregate tally. Soon after, there was some confusion on who could ask that the article be reconsidered, resulting in a decision by the moderator that left Town Meeting in a kerfuffle for a few days.
At a recent Select Board meeting, representatives of the Town Clerk’s Office, the Town Administrator and Town Moderator presented an initial draft article which they will bring to the fall Special Town Meeting in November supporting, as moderator Mike Widmer describes it, three “modest” proposals that will clarify and codify what constitutes a roll call vote.
“The proposal is based on the informal survey of Town Meeting members after the annual meeting … and we have done our best to reflect the will of the majority of members,” said Widmer.
Assistant Town Clerk Meg Piccione announced the proposed changes to the bylaw:
- a roll call will be automatically conducted for the final action on any article or motion that requires a 2/3 majority vote.
- an automatic roll call will be done when a motion or article is passed by fewer than 10 aggregate votes.
- If a member requests a roll call vote for any other article, the measure will require 50 supporting members, up from 35.
Widmer noted the bylaw change also includes redefining reconsideration – when a matter that was voted on is brought back before the Town Meeting for a second time – which was also an issue at the annual meeting. The new bylaw will only allow a member who voted in the majority be allowed to request a motion to reconsider.
Widmer said he does expect some to question the group’s bylaw change and possibly challenge some aspects of the new bylaw.
“We’re under no illusion that there won’t be any amendments to this proposal,” said Widmer. “But our hope is to have …the one article so we can make it a smoother process rather than having one citizen’s petition for an article and another for something else.”