New voting technology is coming to town meeting, sooner than many might think.

Duxbury residents may get a chance to vote using handheld electronic keypads at the March 8 annual town meeting next year as the electronic balloting committee is hoping to offer a trial with these devices.

The committee also plans to submit a warrant article for funding to lease the devices for use at future annual and special town meetings.

The nine-member electronic balloting committee was approved at the 2013 annual town meeting and charged with researching the idea to see if the new technology would be right for Duxbury. The idea was proposed by Town Meeting Moderator Friend Weiler because he believes the devic- es will improve the speed and efficiency of town meeting. Weiler has said that the electronic voting devices are fast, private and offer “a methodology if there is a challenge” to a vote. He observed the use of electronic balloting at an open town meeting last year in Wayland and was impressed with what he saw.

In Duxbury, residents vote by voice or, if an exact vote count is needed, by raising their hands holding a paper ticket that proves they are registered. They are then counted by town meeting tellers. Weiler has been looking to improve the method of the hand-count voting because it is time consuming and lacks privacy.

The committee voted unanimously last week to submit the warrant article and to pursue having a company bring in the machines for a trial next year. The devices resemble television remote controls but have only three buttons: one for yes, another for no and one to clear the vote. They are mainly used at corporate meetings, but more communities are making the move toward using electronic voting.

The committee has been working together since the spring and it contacted ten companies requesting infor- mation on the electronic voting devices. They heard back from six. They asked the vendors 29 questions that varied from specifics about how the

machines work and how many users the technology can support; whether they are used by cities and towns and how the company supports its products. Committee members then reviewed the companies’ answers and rated them using a scale of 1-3.

At their meeting last Wednesday, the electronic bal- loting committee decided to ask for the cost of leasing the voting machines from the three vendors whom they scored the highest. These companies are Option Technologies of Or- lando, Fla., IML of New York City and Meridia Audience Response of Plymouth Meeting, Pa. They also plan to ask whether any of these companies would provide a dem- onstration of the machines at next year’s town meeting. One company, Option Technologies, has said it would provide a trial use in Duxbury.

“One option that is very advantageous to the town is to use the technology full scale at the next town meeting,” said acting committee chairman Susan Kadar.

Option Technologies provided the electronic handsets for free for the Westborough, Mass. special town meeting, held in October and voters agreed to use them.

“I spoke to the town clerk in Westborough and initially she was skeptical but she really seemed to like it,” said com- mittee member Dave Tobin.

Westborough plans to ask its voters to add a line item to fund electronic voting in its next year’s budget.

The committee favors leasing instead of buying the handsets: “I don’t think as a committee we have any interest in purchasing them,” said committee member Susan Kelley.

The committee did not have the actual costs of leasing, as it needs to gather more information from the three companies.

However, a spreadsheet provided by the committee gave some idea of cost. For example, Option Technologies stated that their prices vary depending upon the number of voting keypads required, the length of town meeting, and the number of times the system must be installed and removed. Their rental prices vary from approximately $18,000 for 300 keypads for a one day meeting to $83,000 for 1,200 keypads for a two week period.

Meridia Audience Response stated that it would cost $1,995 plus shipping and handling to lease 300 keypads for a single day. Each additional device would cost $5. Leasing the system at this price does not include any technical support.

IML stated that cost is dependent upon the number of devices needed. It charges $25 per unit per day plus a $1,000 set up fee and $750 on site help. They also charge for travel and expenses.

The committee plans to firm up cost information and decide which company will offer the electronic voting demonstration before town meeting.