Electronic voting for Council?

At the end of the year City Council members talked about ways to bring their meetings into the 21st or 20th centuries to speed things up a tad. One idea: electronic voting. City staff spent money to set up such a system a few years ago but Council has never bothered to put it into action.

On the City Council message board, CM Leslie Pool says she plans to introduce a resolution on Feb. 7 instructing the city manager to “explore best practices regarding municipal bodies’ voting procedures.”

Over the holiday break, I heard informally from folks that electronic voting, or another type of voting procedure, would provide a reliable, real-time mechanism for conveying vote results to the public. As well, the Clerk would have the information readily available for record-keeping purposes.

As I began drafting the IFC, my staff viewed council meeting videos from a handful of Texas cities, and found electronic voting used in the cities of San Antonio, Fort Worth, El Paso, and Plano. The Dallas City Council largely relies on voice votes but turns to electronic voting as needed – such as when a split vote is anticipated.

I am especially impressed with the public-facing vote results that electronic voting provides.

This is somewhat surprising, since Pool seemed to be the one least interested in making big changes to meetings procedure during the conversation in December. She rebuked a suggestion from her nemesis, Jimmy Flannigan, to explore some kind of electronic waiting list for citizen speakers, so the mayor doesn’t have to look out in the crowd to find each speaker. The current process, said Pool, is more “humane” and “reminds everybody that we’re people.”

Just as surprising, the first person to respond in support to Pool’s announcement on the Council message board: Flannigan. He asked to join her resolution as a co-sponsor (Ann Kitchen and Adler have already signed on).

To be clear, if Council does implement electronic voting, that does not mean they will stop raising their hands during votes. A number of CMs made clear that they are very attached to that practice.

Electronic voting probably won’t make meetings shorter. It will just make it easier for city staff and journalists to keep records and/or look up votes.

For what it’s worth, the best voting practice that I’ve seen at City Hall came from former Planning Commission Chair Steve Oliver. He sat on one end of the dais, so that he could see every other member of the commission.  Typically the mayor or commission chairs sit in the center, which means they often fail to notice a colleague on one side of the dais who wants to be recognized. Granted, I understand the mayor may not want to forfeit the symbolic value of being at the center.

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