Last year, our post-Town Meeting editorial was entitled “Numbers don’t lie”. It discussed Town Meeting voter turnout throughout The Valley pre-COVID and for 2022 Town Meeting.
All Town Meetings in 2021 and 2022 featured Australian ballot voting and resulted in significantly higher voter turnout than 2019 and 2020.
This year Town Meetings took place in person in Moretown, Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston and saw a drop in participation. In 2022,
voter turnout at Town Meeting ranged from 17% to 37.9% across the Mad River Valley. In 2019, voter turnout across the Mad River Valley ranged from 10.5% to 26.7%. This year, voter turnout ranged from 8% to 23%. Duxbury, which kept its Town Meeting all Australian ballot saw the highest turnout. Numbers don’t lie.
Take a look at voter turnout in last November’s general election – also all Australian ballot voting. Voter turnout was 60% throughout the district. In Waitsfield voter turnout was 69.2%. It was 63.7% in Warren, 66.0% in Moretown, 61.7% in Fayston and 60.4% in Duxbury.
Now it is entirely possible that turnout was low this year because people are still spooked about crowds and indoor spaces due to COVID. That is possible.
But 1,808 of 11,476 (15.7%) of the registered voters in our school district approved a $45 million budget by a vote of 1,192 to 599.
This is not to suggest that it’s bad that the school budget passed nor is it to suggest it was not great to gather again with friends and neighbors for an in-person Town Meeting.
But are we disenfranchising people who can’t attend due to work or child care or other obligations? The issue of when to start Town Meeting was brought up in several towns this year and has been considered in years past.
Here’s how we concluded our 2022 editorial:
But must we throw the baby out with the bathwater and completely do away with Town Meeting as we know it? Can we find a better way? Can we make Town Meeting Day a paid day off for all Vermonters? Can we switch meetings to a weekend day? Can we legally create some sort of hybrid where people could participate in person and remotely?