In Mass., Some Officials Can Phone It In

Long distance democracy is coming to some Massachusetts towns. Williamstown is the latest place in western Massachusetts to allow town board members to vote at meetings over the phone, or even a video-conference hookup, if unable to attend in person.

A 2011 regulation by the state’s attorney general lets municipalities opt-in to the practice if they choose. 

Valerie Hall is chair of the school committee in Williamstown. She says she’s been asked by members of her board in the past if they could phone in to a meeting, but had to turn them down.

“Many people nowadays travel for business and work from home, so we’ve become a society, I think, that’s very used to calling into meetings and Skyping to meetings and I thought it would really benefit the school committee if we could allow our members to participate even when they’re traveling,” Hall says.

Great Barrington, Middlefield and Gill also allow board members to phone it in. Officials in Amherst and Northampton have discussed it but not taken a vote.

Though phone calls, videoconferencing and online voice apps like Skype are fair game, there’s still no provision to vote by text message.