Lawsuit challenges Burlington ballot items

Published: Mar. 16, 2021 at 4:07 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 17, 2021 at 4:20 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A Burlington lawyer has filed a complaint against the city over what he calls confusing and misleading ballot questions.

The complaint says three articles on the Town Meeting Day ballot violated Vermont election laws, including measures on just cause evictions and ranked-choice voting. It calls for the results to be voided and resubmitted on next Town Meeting Day’s ballot. It also takes issue with two other articles as being “unconstitutionally vague and indefinite.”

“I come at this with a concern for voting, a concern for our Constitution, a concern with access to clear voter information,” said Ben Luna, the attorney bringing the lawsuit.

Luna says the city’s election information in the town meeting warning and on its website was confusing, disjointed and misleading. He believes not only were some documents confusing but they also violated Vermont’s election law. He calls some ballot questions unconstitutionally vague and indefinite and wants the judge to void results on three charter change questions to be voted on next March when voters can be better informed.

“This lawsuit is really on behalf of those very, very busy people out there in the city of Burlington who should not become confused with the information presented to it by its government,” said Luna.

He also says he has no problem with the substance of the articles, but rather how they were presented to the public.

City Council President Max Tracy, P-Ward 2, rejects these claims, saying he believes the city followed the proper protocols warning the meeting and even sent the full questions to all voters.

“They also received the full long-form language at the request of the council with their ballots. So if they were interested in really studying the question, they had it right there in the context of the absentee ballot,” he said.

Tracy says Burlington voters also had a chance to participate in public hearings regarding the potential charter changes prior to Town Meeting Day.

“There were ample opportunities for folks to participate and ask questions in advance of casting their ballots,” he said.

A spokesperson for the city also responded to the lawsuit, saying, in a statement: “Our City Attorney’s Office received this complaint this morning and is reviewing it. The full and accurate language for each Charter Change and ballot item was mailed to every registered, active voter in the envelope with the ballot. We don’t believe there is any error or violation of election laws. The City won’t be able to speak to this further we are still reviewing the complaint and as it is a matter of active litigation.”

Meanwhile, Luna says he hopes the lawsuit will be a catalyst for creating better voter access to information and possibly even a voter information city committee to ensure Burlingtonians are educated before heading to the polls.

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Ranked-choice voting proponents launch Better Ballot Burlington initiative

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