To help Amherst citizens make informed voting decisions, inAmherst.com is providing a database of Town Meeting tally vote results going back to November of 2003. [Update Nov. 2008: the database is now located at www.tallyvotes.org]. With it, you can check the voting records of individuals or whole precincts in order to see how your priorities match those of the people whom you are voting for and who are representing you.
A few words about tally votes. Most questions at Town Meeting are decided by voice vote. If the outcome of a voice vote is not clear, a standing vote is taken. In a standing vote, all the “Ayes” and all of the “Nos” are counted in turn, and those totals are recorded. This provides a record of the exact number of people voting for and against each question, but doesn't record the individual vote of each member. To do that requires a tally vote, which is taken upon the request of fifteen members. In a tally vote, members vote Yes or No using cards that are pre-printed with their names. Only tally votes record specifically how each member voted on an issue. They are the only vote that provides accountability. But they also take extra time, so it is not always considered worthwhile to do them. 2006 showed a marked increase in the number of tally votes called for, perhaps reflecting a new or renewed desire for accountable representation.
How the database works
First, choose the votes you want to see. You can choose to see all the votes in the database at the same time, choose just the ones from a specific Town Meeting, or you can select a single vote or multiple votes from the complete list.
Next, choose the members whose votes you want to see. You can choose all current and former members (going back to November of 2003,) or just current members, or you can choose various groups of members – by precinct, by candidacy for a particular office, etc. Or you can choose any and all of the members whose votes you want to see by selecting each one from a long list.
Next, you can choose how you would like the results sorted, which is pretty self-explanatory, except for one thing. One of the choices there is “rating.” What's a rating?
The rating choice only works if you rate the votes. This is an entirely optional step. If you wish to rate the votes, you will specify your preferred outcome – Yes or No – on any or all of the votes. Once you do that – just one time; it should retain your choices –the votes will appear highlighted in green when the vote aligns with your set preference, or in red when it is opposite your preference. If you choose to sort your results by rating, the ones that most closely align with your choices will be at the top, while those differing the most from your choices will be at the bottom. Note: only specify preferences for votes that you know a lot about. Without the context of the discussion, you can't really know if something is as good (or as bad!) as the summary makes it appear. And because so few votes become tally votes, you don't know what the alternatives were for any given option.
Some other things to know:
•· If you move your cursor over the vote number at the top of the results column, or over the blue details after the short vote summary, a box will pop up with more information about that particular vote, including whether it passed or failed. I have tried to summarize the description of these votes accurately. Please feel free to e-mail any corrections.
•· Unless you have chosen one of the “current members” options, your results may contain people who are not currently on Town Meeting. “Current” refers to today, not to people who were current members at the time of a specific vote.
•· Also, every name is linked to only one precinct, so anyone who changed precincts only shows up under his or her most recent one.
•· The goal is for this to be as user-friendly as possible. If you have questions or suggestions, please e-mail those along as well.
Ready to go? Enjoy the inAmherst.com Town Meeting Tally Vote Database.
-- Stephanie O'Keeffe