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Vt. towns prepare for pandemic Town Meeting Day 2.0

Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 5:34 PM EST
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont communities will come together in just over a month to vote on local budgets and elect leaders. But with omicron cases surging, a new law signed by Governor Phil Scott will once again give towns flexibility in how to conduct Town Meeting Day.

The law signed by the governor this week lets towns hold meetings remotely or push them back to when they can be held outside or when case counts are lower. It also once again waives signature requirements for ballot items and those seeking office.

Before widespread vaccination was available last year, Williamstown Town Clerk Barbara Graham says they broke with tradition and had people vote in person via Australian ballot. “It went smooth, it went very well,” she said. But come March 1, she says the community will return to its traditional in-person meeting at the local gym to debate the issues face-to-face. “The board felt it was important to not lose that sense of what town meeting is all about.” She adds that masking and distancing are still required.

Fifty miles to the north, in Barton, they normally conduct a hybrid meeting, voting on budgets with a show of hands or a voice vote. Town officers are picked by Australian ballot. But Barton is now moving ahead with all votes through Australian ballot only. An informational meeting will be held in person and online.

“We have some folks who are absolutely against anything remote and some folks that need that for their own well-being,” said Barton Town Clerk Kristin Atwood.

Montpelier mailed out ballots to voters last year, shattering voter participation records in the process. Now, they’re only mailing out ballots to those who request them and having everyone else vote in-person by Australian ballot at City Hall.

City Clerk John Odum says early indications are many will request absentee ballots so they can stay away from the polls. “I think that speaks to how committed Montpelier citizens are to voting and participating in the local process come-hell-or-high-water,” he said.

One of New England’s oldest democratic traditions will once again be adapting to the global pandemic.

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