Role & Responsibilities
The Moderator’s principal role is to preside at Town Meeting, which is Manchester’s legislature. Town Meeting approves the annual budget for all departments and enacts the Town’s governing laws, called By-laws. In presiding, the Moderator follows provisions of Massachusetts law, Article II of the Town’s General By-law, and a book called Town Meeting Time.
Manchester conducts an “open” town meeting, which means that every registered voter is entitled to attend, to speak and to vote. The open town meeting is the earliest and most direct form of American democracy.
The Moderator also appoints three of the nine members of the Town's Finance Committee, two of the seven trustees of the Town's Affordable Housing Trust, and the Town's representative on the Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School Committee.
Why must we vote in person at Town Meeting?
As the Special Town Meeting scheduled for October 15 approaches, we’ve received a number of questions from residents about voting, in particular whether it is possible to vote by absentee ballot or by proxy. Under state law, neither is permitted.
Town meetings are governed by Chapter 39 of the Massachusetts General Laws. The statute requires that voters be present at the meeting to hear the debate and exercise their right to vote. Historically, in colonial times attendance at town meeting was mandatory, and those who were absent or arrived late could be fined.
As a practical matter, absentee ballots at town meeting could not be effective as they are for elections. In an election, the candidates and any referendum questions are known well in advance of the date. At a town meeting, on the other hand, no one can predict with certainty what motions or amendments may be proposed on town meeting floor. It would be impossible to anticipate the questions to be decided in preparing an absentee ballot.
While we understand the frustration of residents whose travel plans or other circumstances may prevent their attending on October 15, the Town has no choice but to follow the requirements of state law. In 2003, almost 850 voters attended the meeting to consider construction of the Middle High School. We expect a similar or larger number to attend in October. With electronic voting, everyone will be able to express her or his choice privately, and we’ll know the result immediately – without having to count paper ballots as we did 15 years ago!
Alan Wilson, Town Moderator
Christina St. Pierre, Town Clerk