Vermont officials are urging state residents to cast their ballots next week when the state’s Town Meeting Day coincides with the presidential primary. But to do that, Vermonters must have registered by today. The presence of a hometown Senator on the ballot could boost turnout.
Most towns and cities across Vermont will be electing local officials and voting on town and school budgets Tuesday, Town Meeting Day. It coincides with Super Tuesday so Vermonters will also vote in Democratic and Republican presidential primaries.
Vermont Secretary Of State Jim Condos and other state officials have been reminding voters that the deadline to register was 5 p.m. Wednesday in order to cast ballots next Tuesday. “We have seen an uptick in activity for online voter registration and actually paper registrations. From December to January we added 4,000 which is a significant jump and we think that the voter registration will continue to increase all the way through right up until November for the general election.”
Town Meeting Day is often perceived as a free flowing discussion of community issues. But to make the final decisions, floor votes occur. Middlebury College Associate Professor of Political Science Bert Johnson explains that while registering to cast a ballot in the primary is an obvious requirement, you must also be registered for the town meeting. “You have to be registered to vote on the Town Meeting Items. (So if somebody is just going for the discussion, they wouldn’t necessarily have to be registered though?) You would have to be registered to make it into the voter area of the town meeting. They check you in and there’s a barrier usually and you can be there and you can sit on the other side of the barrier if you want. I always do that with Middlebury because I’m not a Middlebury voter but I want to know what’s happening in the Town of Middlebury. But if you’re not a registered voter you don’t get to take part in the vote.”
Vermont Democratic Party spokesperson Christina Amestoy says they have been getting people registered to vote and there is heightened interest in Tuesday’s proceedings, with Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders expected to cruise in the Democratic presidential primary. “The biggest concern we’ve actually heard and it’s something we want to put to bed is that you have to be registered separately to vote in the primary. And that of course is not the case. If you’re registered to vote you’re allowed to vote in the primary, you’re allowed to vote in your Town Meeting Day elections. And so if you were registered in the ‘08 election you can vote on March 1st. Beyond that I think people are curious about the process. People are trying to figure out within their own schedules if they only have time to show up and cast their ballot or if they do have time to sit down and participate in the actual town meeting.”
Vermont Republican Party Chair Dave Sunderland says the party has encouraged people to register and expects the national primaries on both sides to draw more voters out on Town Meeting Day. “One of the things I hear from many people is that they don’t want to declare themselves or register themselves as a Republican or as a Democrat. They consider themselves independent. And here in Vermont you don’t register as a member of a political party. You have to make that choice when you go in to the ballot box. But you don’t register for parties here in Vermont. So that’s a very important point for people to understand.”
Registered voters who cannot make it to the polls can request absentee ballots until February 29th. Those ballots must be returned by March 1st.