Despite the promise of COVID-19 vaccines headed to Vermont, it is highly unlikely that enough will arrive to allow towns to hold in-person Town Meetings this March and local leaders are sorting through their options on how to pass budgets, resolutions and amendments.
Fayston town clerk Patti Lewis said that the select board was trying to figure out deadlines and ballot types. Normally those running for office have to submit their paperwork by January 25 and their names need to be on a ballot that is available as an absentee ballot 30 days before the election. Town Meeting will fall on March 2 this year which gives the town very little time to get the ballots printed if the town plans to use the tabulator, Lewis said. The town also has the option of hand counting the ballots and creating its own ballots, she explained.
Some towns, like Moretown, hold a pre-Town Meeting the night before the event and no financial matters can be considered at Town Meeting. This year, if local towns move to an all-Australian ballot vote on budgets and town officials and other matters, all towns could end up holding a pre-Town Meeting.
Pre-Town Meetings won’t be able to be in person so there would have to be some form of digital platform whether it is Zoom or conference calls, which Lewis noted could cause issues for those without access to the technology or the experience to use it.
The Waitsfield Select Board voted at its November 23 meeting to have town administrator Trevor Lashua begin the process of moving next year’s Town Meeting votes to Australian ballot. Last year, the Vermont Legislature passed Act 162 which allows towns to use Australian ballots for all questions normally decided from the floor, but only for 2021.
“Voters will still have their respective “say” on the budget and any other questions, but will do so remotely and by ballot. Much like the November election, voting could be done early/absentee or at the polls on the day of,” he outlined in an email to the board.
Act 162 also eliminates the need for candidates for local offices to gather enough signatures to appear on ballots (though the consent form is still required and needs to be filed with the clerk). Voter-backed petitions still need the requisite number of signatures, unless the board waives that requirement.
Warren Select Board chair Andy Cunningham said the board hasn’t taken any concrete action yet and is awaiting more information from the governor and Legislature on what allowances might be made for timing and method.
“We’re not counting on any in-person gatherings,” he said.