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Voters To Consider Local Issues And Presidential Politics On Town Meeting Day

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Vermont’sTown Meeting Day is quickly approaching. It’s next Tuesday.  The day that personifies democracy in action coincides with the national Super Tuesday primaries this year.  Vermonters are expected to have a heightened interest this year as some schools look at merging and a native son appears on the presidential primary ballot.
Vermont voters will be asked to consider new taxes, bonds, and infrastructure improvements on Tuesday.  Some local officials are elected and town issues are reviewed.  Most towns hold the traditional meeting in which residents come to a meeting hall and discuss budgets, resolutions and issues before voting.  Others have people vote via Australian ballot.

Town Meeting Day is when most school budgets go before voters. Vermont Principals Association Executive Director Jeff Francis explains that school boards adopted in January the budgets that are now being presented to voters.   “So voters have had an occasion to take a look at those budgets and I think in about half the communities in Vermont folks will actually go to floor of Town Meeting where they’ll discuss budget proposals as you would envision in a Norman Rockwell painting. In other communities they just go and vote in the polls like they were doing for a standard election.”  

Francis says it has been an interesting year due to changes in the funding system. He also reports that five supervisory unions need voter approval to merge under Act 46.  “There will be five votes where our supervisory unions, which are groups of districts that have been under an umbrella organizational structure, will vote to come into one structure.  But the key story is what happens with school district budget votes. This was there was this allowable growth provision.  It set targets for districts to meet in their budgeting scenario.”

Middlebury College Associate Professor of Political Science Bert Johnson is particularly intrigued with the school budget votes.   “Act 46 has encouraged school consolidation. And so we might be able to get some sense from the voters of how they’re reacting to Act 46 or are they still just as frustrated with school budgets as they have been in the last few years.”

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos says it’s not a resolution state, so you won’t see any statewide resolutions put before voters.  But he lists numerous local ordinances and questions that will be decided on Tuesday.  “In Barre City there’s a chicken ordinance on the ballot to put some restrictions on free range chickens.  Down here in central Vermont there are three or four towns that have got rooms and meals or local option taxes on the ballot.  I think Rutland has a $2-and-a-half million community swimming pool and you know there’s always charter changes that are being proposed by various towns.”  

Every four years, Town Meeting Day coincides with the Super Tuesday presidential primary.  Vermont Democratic Party spokesperson Christina Amestoy expects overwhelming support for home-state candidate Senator Bernie Sanders in his race against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.   “It’ll be interesting to see because how our Vermont Democratic primary works there’s a 15 percent threshold and so that will be the big number that people are watching for.  And that means that Hilary Clinton will need to receive at least 15 percent of the vote to receive any of the pledged delegates that Vermont has.”

Vermont Republican Party Chair Dave Sunderland finds that in presidential primary years there tends to be a larger turnout on Town Meeting Day.  He expects that will happen this year because of the dynamic primary races in both parties and the local issues.   “It’s the beauty of Vermont.  A ballot initiative on a municipal level can really excite people and drive them to the polls and while they’re there they vote for presidential candidates. On the other hand there’s some people who are really engaged and interested in the outcome of the presidential primary and they may be driven to the polls just to vote for that and while they’re there vote for the municipal issues as well. So I do think it’s a combination.”

Town Meeting Day is a state holiday in Vermont.  Polls and Meeting open between 7 and 10 a.m. and must close at 7 p.m.

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