OPINION: Town Meeting and the One-Percenters

Town Meeting 2024

April 26, 2024 By Jim Kruzer

What if 1% of the population were permitted to decide how all of us live? Before you imagine a world ruled by techno-billionaires, heirs to oil fortunes, and Boston Brahmin, look a bit closer to home: Hingham’s antiquated Town Meeting system accomplishes the same result.

This relic was on display last night at the second night of the Annual Town Meeting when 191 individuals, or fewer than 1% of the 19,501 registered voters in Hingham 1, were present to vote on Article 34 of the Warrant, an amendment to the town zoning by- laws to permit a multifamily overly district in an attempt to comply with the Commonwealth’s MBTA Communities law. Recognizing the paltry number of residents doting the chairs in the Hingham High School gymnasium as 10:30 pm approached, contemporaneous with the voice vote, I made a point of order regarding whether a quorum of 200 residents was present. The town moderator ordered an official count and then a recount of that initial tally (although unannounced, also presumably below 200 residents) before stating that a quorum was not present and the meeting would be adjourned. This may be an unsatisfying end to Thursday’s session of Town Meeting for some; however, it is necessary to draw attention to the unrepresentative and ineffective way our town continues to decide important public matters.

The participation at Town Meeting stands in juxtaposition to Hingham residents’ typical civic engagement. In the 2020 presidential election, 83% of registered voters (15,700 of 18,933) in Hingham cast a ballot; this number was actually slightly below the normal 85%-86% percent turnout during a typical presidential year 2 but well above the national voter turnout rate of approximately 66%. 3 As a barometer for the average resident’s interest in local politics, consider that 5,663 people voted in last year’s April town election 4 . Last April’s election turnout amounts to almost 30 times the number of people who were present for yesterday’s late-night vote.

As presently constituted, Town Meeting is unsuitable for dealing with issues of town governance. The meeting itself lasts for multiple days in the middle of the work and school week and stretches late into the evening. Controversial articles, such as Article 34, may not be taken up until well into the evening, when attention and attendance is dwindling, as shown last night. While last year’s Town Meeting included low-cost childcare provided by the Recreation Department – when the parent vote was important to ensure that the override passed – no such services were provided this year.

Under the present quorum requirement for Town Meeting, 101 residents in town can decide a vote which requires a simple majority vote, and 132 residents are all that is needed to determine a matter requiring a two-thirds majority. Who were those one to two hundred people who hold the town’s fate in their hands? Parents. Based on my rough estimation, about 5% and certainly no more than 10% of the voters were parents of school-aged children in Hingham. These parents are the same people who run town organizations, help out at our schools, attend civic fundraisers, and coach kids’ sports teams. Their children live in and will inherit the version of Hingham that is shaped by the choices voters make about schools, zoning, and a host of other policy decisions. Their interest and stake in Hingham and its future cannot be questioned.

To alleviate the challenges presented by the current form of Town Meeting, Hingham should move to a representative form of town meeting, as many communities in the Commonwealth have. According to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, representative town meetings in Massachusetts range between 50 to 429 members in size with an average of 214. 5 Under either the representative model or the current form, in practice, a few hundred people will cast the votes that determine the outcome of the articles at a town meeting. Utilizing precinct representatives would allow residents to voice their opinion to a neighbor they see while walking the dog or waiting at the bus stop. This model stands a better chance of increasing civic engagement than the current form, in which most busy parents aren’t informed of the outcome of town meeting until after it has occurred.

Town Meeting will resume on Monday, when presumably the questionable vote will need to be reconsidered, as allowing it to stand leaves the vote in shaky legal grounds. While I would like to be present at that time, I’ll be coaching town baseball. For the sake of busy Hingham parents and for Hingham as a whole, let’s find a better way to make decisions.


1 Massachusetts Secretary of State. www.sec.state.ma.us/divisions/elections/download/research-and-
statistics/enrollment_count_20240305.pdf (February 24, 2024).
2 Audrey Cooney, Hingham Journal. https://www.wickedlocal.com/story/hingham-journal/2020/11/03/election-
2020-biden-wins-hingham/42978877/ (November 3, 2020).
3 Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2023/07/12/voter-turnout-2018-2022/ (July 12,
4 Hingham Anchor. https://www.hinghamanchor.com/2023-hingham-official-election-results/
5 Massachusetts Municipal Association. https://www.mma.org/local-government-101/ (September 19, 2023).
6 DelPrete v. Bd. of Selectmen of Rockland, 351 Mass. 344, 344–45 (1966) (a challenge to a quorum at the time of
the vote calls into question the validity of the vote)

3 thoughts on “OPINION: Town Meeting and the One-Percenters”

  1. No. Hingham should not give up the right of the CITIZENS to directly affect important matters of the town. I realize that it can be tedious, and poorly attended, and my goodness those seats are painful after 3 hours. But this ‘antique’ form of government is the last best way for the individual taxpayer to make their voice heard and matter.
    I have lived in both towns, and watched as Weymouth moved from ‘town meeting members’ (they had years ago given up on open town meetings) and then when that finally wasn’t working, they voted to go to a Mayor and town council where they elect a counselor to represent their district, and I can tell you many citizens there feel like they are not being heard. Sure they can complain, but at the end of the day, they have no direct vote. The only choice they might have is to try to run for office, and we know if you haven’t got time to go to 3 days of town meeting, you sure don’t have time to be a town councilor.
    So complain all you want that it’s obsolete, but when an important issue that YOU care about comes up.. open town meeting is the ONLY way YOU as a citizen of this town can make a real difference and voice your concerns to the town, and maybe, just maybe, you can get answers or accountability for something important. Maybe you can even get an article tabled..

  2. Why not have Town Meeting before annual elections are held?
    Allow residents to voice their opinions at the Town Meeting, BUT have everyone cast their votes on each line item at annual elections instead.

    The town meeting is a great way to be heard and participate, but the “old way” is not accessible to all for way too many reasons:
    -Having attended at least 20 of these events, I can personally attest to the challenges of disabled parking and seating at the venue
    -People who work the night shift (Should they be required to use up precious vacation time to vote? Seems a bit unreasonable.)
    -Adult age students may have homework or studying to do on these nights
    -There is no space to accommodate 15,700 voters and people get discouraged about standing for several hours
    -Parents of young children may not be able to get a babysitter that evening (or may just be super tired)
    -Seniors may not have transportation or be able to stay up late, but could watch it on local cable station and vote on it later
    -Residents with health challenges may not be able to leave their home or risk compromising their systems by joining a large crowd
    -People don’t have to spend their evenings listening to filibusters or standing in endless lines to cast tie-breaker ballots on site

    Maybe if everyone felt their voice would be heard via a paper ballot, you’d get better voter turnout in the long run

  3. Wondering if the meetings should cater to the residents availability? Maybe better communication on the reason to attend. Coffee and donuts?


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