HARRISON — Voters may be able to say “yes” or “no” to town meeting articles from the comfort of their home if a proposal to change the method of voting from an open town meeting to secret balloting is ok’d.

A public hearing on that proposal, along with proposed changes to the Subdivision Ordinance, Shoreland Zoning Map, the Mass Gathering Ordinance and the Building Code Ordinance, will be held tonight, Thursday, March 28 beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the town office.

In an attempt to garner more voter participation at Annual Town Meeting, selectmen have decided to try a new method – allowing voters to cast votes for Annual Town Meeting warrant articles when they go to the polls for Annual Town Election or through absentee ballot voting.

The reason, said the board, is to garner more voter participation.

“The numbers for attending town meeting have gone down over the past years,” said Town Clerk Melissa St. John.

According to St. John, in 2018, 46 people including members of the Board of Selectmen, the new and former town manager and the town clerk attended the meeting, which is traditionally held on the evening after the Annual Town Election.


“If we go to a ballot for all the questions, it would happen on election day and people would vote in a voting booth or they would be able to vote by absentee ballot. Last year we had 594 people vote. I know it was a primary but on a year when just municipal is happening we have about 350 votes,” said St. John. “That is better than 46 people making the decision for the town.

Additionally, she said no one could vote by absentee ballot at a traditional town meeting.

“It’s interactive at a specific time,” she said.

The Maine Municipal Association says that while many towns use secret balloting for large ticket items, like bond issues, there are several towns in Maine that act on their entire warrant by secret ballot. According to the MMA, open town meeting towns become secret ballot towns by a Town Meeting vote to adopt secret ballot voting at least 90 days before the annual meeting.

In addition to the proposed change in voting, residents will also be asked to make other changes to existing ordinances.

The Mass Gathering Ordinance changes will reduce the number of people allowed to gather without a permit from 1,000 to 500. With only 2,730 residents in town, the board felt 500 was a more reasonable number for an event to be permitted, St. John said. The permit application, she noted, provides pertinent information to town officials to allow them to plan sufficiently for the health, safety and well-being of the community.


Other Ordinance changes include some being made to the Draft Shoreland Zoning Map including changes to several redistricting areas and to the resource protection areas. The map, created by the Lakes Environment Association, needs to be adopted by the Town.

St. John said the proposed changes to the Subdivision Ordinance, last updated in 2006, include spelling, updating documents referenced, removing coastal references, updating to current guidelines for things like liquid harvesting and floodplain rules.

If approved, the Building Code Ordinance would adopt the Maine Uniform Building and Energy CODE (MUBEC) by reference and provide homeowners some protection from inferior work and dishonest contractors, St. John said.

The proposed ordinances and changes to existing ordinances are available on the town of Harrison website for review. The questions will be voted on during the June 11 Municipal Election.


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