SKOWHEGAN — Would you be more likely to attend the annual Town Meeting if you didn’t have to raise your hand on votes for everyone to see?

That’s the question selectmen in Skowhegan have taken up after a business owner brought the concern to them earlier this month.

The town has since begun to explore the possibility of switching to an electronic voting system that uses individual clickers for residents to cast their votes, as a replacement for the traditional hand-raising.

It would be a 21st century update to a centuries-old form of government unique to New England, but selectmen and town elections officials appear to be warming up to the idea after discussing the matter at a pair of recent Board of Selectmen meetings.

There are about 5,000 registered voters in Skowhegan, according to the most recent state data. Less than 100 typically attend the Town Meeting to approve the municipal budget and weigh in on other related matters, officials said.

Kris Laney, a Skowhegan business owner, first brought up the possibility of changing the system earlier this month. He argued that the public visibility that comes with people raising their hands could be a reason for the sparse attendance at the annual Town Meeting.


“The biggest concern is public vote, show of hands,” Laney said at the Board of Selectmen’s Jan. 9 meeting. “They don’t want to go down and show how they’re voting.”

Laney originally proposed switching to a paper ballot, but after officials said that would be too costly, the conversation moved to the idea of an electronic voting system. Several selectmen agreed that solution could draw out more voters.

Skowhegan Town Clerk/Treasurer Gail Pelotte. Photo by Patrisha McLean

The technology would cost the town about $7,000 to $10,000 for about 200 clickers, depending on the vendor, according to Gail Pelotte, Skowhegan’s town clerk and treasurer. Three vendors sell a similar technology, Pelotte told selectmen on Tuesday.

The system is “user-friendly” and can handle articles that are amended during the voting process, Pelotte said.

Pelotte also said at Tuesday’s meeting that she and her staff spoke with elections officials from three towns that use the system: Naples, Casco and Mendon, Massachusetts.

Those officials did not report an increase in voter turnout after switching to the electronic system, Pelotte said. But she could see how the new system could potentially boost turnout among the town’s 5,000 registered voters.


“It could be a whole different story for the town of Skowhegan,” Pelotte said, “because you have business owners that are residents, and maybe they do want to come to Town Meeting, but they don’t want to sit there and have anybody view their votes.”

Tracey O’Roak, president of the Maine Town and City Clerks’ Association, said in an email that she didn’t have any knowledge about switching to an electronic voting system and also didn’t know of any towns that have adopted the technology.

Making the switch could require notifying the Department of the Secretary of State, according to O’Roak, who is the town clerk in Kennebunkport. But state statutes on Town Meeting procedures do not appear to mention electronic voting or if any approvals are required for it.

Questions also remain about potential hiccups in using the technology. The town would need more staff on hand at Town Meeting to address technological issues, such as dead batteries, Pelotte said. And the town would also need to decide how many clickers to purchase and what to do if there are not enough clickers for the number of voters that attend.

Pelotte did not have a cost estimate for more clickers. Selectman Charles Robbins, hopeful for even higher turnout with a new voting system, asked her to come back to the board with a quote for 1,000 clickers.

In any case, voters will still be raising their hands at this year’s annual Town Meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, June 10. But the cost for the new technology could be included in next year’s budget, which means it could potentially be in place by 2025.

“I don’t like changes,” Pelotte said. “But I’m definitely willing to do this.”

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