What is Camden’s Article 6, the “Non-Binding Article” About?

Camden’s Article 6 is asking for your preference on how we vote on the Budget — whether at the open Town Meeting or by secret (written) ballot at the polls. This does not obligate the Town to take any specific action; it is simply a way to gauge the voters’ interest in changing the method of voting on the budget by secret ballot versus continuing the traditional method of voting during the open Town Meeting.

Any recommendation for a change made by the Select Board or a work group to the Charter to vote by secret ballot (written) would require public hearings and approval by the voters of the Town at a future Town Meeting.

Our Town of Camden is governed by the Town Meeting/Select Board/Town Manager Plan, as outlined in our Town Charter and Maine Statutes. Under this form of government, the Town Voters – you – are the legislative body. That means that at Town Meeting, voters decide who is elected to office, how ordinances may change and how the Town spends taxpayer dollars.

Usually, the Town holds its Annual Town Meeting in two parts: 1) Voters elect the Select Board and any changes to our Land Use Ordinance by secret (written) ballot at the polls; 2) During the open public portion of the Town Meeting, generally held the next day in the Opera House, voters give final approval to the Town Budget by a show of hands.

Due to the Corona Virus in 2020 and 2021, citizens voted on everything, including the Town Budget, by secret ballot at the polls in the Public Safety Building instead of in an open meeting in the Opera House.

What is the Difference?

Here are some examples of the difference between voting on the budget during open Town Meeting and voting by secret ballot.

Example One: Voter Input on the Budget

Discussion by voters on the proposed budget happens during a public hearing(s) held by the Select Board (generally in April). The public attends and may ask questions and request changes at the Select Board public hearing(s), but citizens do not vote on what goes on the ballot.

The public may also attend all meetings of the Budget Committee to observe their deliberations and ask questions. These sessions normally happen in March and April prior to the June vote.

Open Meeting: Voting on the budget at an open Town Meeting allows voters not just to ask questions and discuss the proposed budget, but to actually make changes to it. There are some statutory restrictions, but for example, if voters want to reduce an amount allocated In General Administration by $10,000, following a motion, a second, discussion and a vote, it could be changed.

Secret Ballot: Voting on the budget by secret ballot at the polls is a simple Yes or No. There is no discussion or opportunity to change the budget by this time.

Example Two: Voter Turnout

There is a significant difference between how many people cast votes by secret ballot and how many attend the open town meeting. Unless there is a “hot button issue” the attendance at the open Town Meeting is rarely over 100.

Does having a larger number of voters cast their vote on the budget by secret ballot outweigh the right of the voters to adjust the budget at open Town Meeting?

Does a Yes/No vote by secret ballot give the Select Board more say over the final budget than the voters?

Example Three: Difference Between Voting Open Town Meeting vs Secret Ballot

In an open Town Meeting citizens may discuss each budget category separately and make proposed changes in the category as opposed to voting on the grand total as we have at the polls by secret ballot the last two years.

The Town could choose to present each budget category separately on the secret ballot for a Yes or No vote. A “No” vote for any category would trigger using last year’s budget for this category until another Town vote for that category can be held.

Consider how would you prefer to vote on the Town’s Annual Budget. Vote on Nov. 2 at the polls or by requesting an absentee ballot at the Town Office.

Deb Dodge

Jean White
Lowrie Sargent

Camden Charter Commission

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