voting

A bill passed by the House on Friday will allow town meeting votes to be conducted by Australian ballot, as seen in Bennington last year. 

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MONTPELIER — The House of Representatives has passed a bill allowing towns and school districts to hold town meeting votes by Australian ballot to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

The bill, S. 172, passed Friday morning by voice vote and was sent back to the Senate for delivery to Gov. Phil Scott.

Quick passage was seen as essential to allow town clerks, and town and school boards, to plan for Town Meeting Day, which is March 1 this year.

An amendment offered by Rep. Casey Toof, R-Franklin, that would have mandated universal balloting by mail for town meetings, was defeated on voice vote. Toof, who offered a similar proposal in 2020, said the benefits of a universal vote by mail — demonstrated in the 2020 presidential election — should be extended to town and school elections, as well, to encourage participation.

The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, and passed through the Senate on Wednesday, allows cities, towns and school districts to hold annual meetings by Australian ballot rather than floor meetings, and move the meeting to a potentially safer date later in the year.

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The bill also provides for electronic informational meetings to held in advance of Australian ballot voting. But it does not allow towns to permanently replace the floor meeting with polling place voting.

The bill’s presenter, Rep. Peter Anthony, D-Washington, said the bill does not free candidates for local office from the responsibility of collecting signatures for nominating papers.

Jason Maulucci, spokesman for Gov. Phil Scott, said the bill had not yet reached Scott’s desk.

“The governor continues to believe that universal mail-in voting should be extended to all elections, not just general elections that already have high turnout,” Maulucci said. “He encourages municipalities to use that which was afforded to them last year.”

Greg Sukiennik covers government and politics for Vermont News & Media. Reach him at gsukiennik@benningtonbanner.com.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.


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