Legislature advances universal mail-in voting for Town Meeting

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

The Vermont House of Representatives voted Tuesday to allow Vermont towns to conduct Town Meeting Day elections with universal mail-in balloting. If approved by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Phil Scott, it would give towns the ability to conduct the election the same way the state conducted the general election in November — mailing ballots to every registered voter to limit in-person voting as a coronavirus public health measure. 

Williston Town Clerk Sarah Mason has said she prefers to conduct the March 2 election in typical fashion, sending mailed ballots only to voters who request them for early voting and conducting in-person, election day voting at the National Guard Armory on Williston Road.

If the state law is finalized, it will be up to the Williston Selectboard to allow universal mail-in balloting in town; in-person voting on election day would still be offered.

Mason said mailing ballots to every voter would result in a lot of undeliverable ballots and wasted postage costs, as it did in November. The election has to be coordinated with the other three towns in the Champlain Valley School District, and all three town clerks — in Charlotte, Shelburne and Hinesburg — have said they are against universal mail-in balloting, according to Mason. 

“Mailing ballots to all registered voters will be very cumbersome to pull off,” she wrote in a Jan. 5 memo to the selectboard.

According to selectboard chair Terry Macaig, a former state lawmaker, Secretary of State Jim Condos has requested a $1.5 million appropriation from the Legislature to help municipalities cover mail-in ballot costs for Town Meeting Day.

Town officials are planning to hold the annual meeting typically held in the Williston Central School auditorium the Monday before Town Meeting Day via teleconference (Zoom). The March 1 meeting will be a chance for town and school officials to present their budget proposals. 

The following day, municipal and school budget votes will be tallied and selectboard and school board seats determined. 

There are two selectboard seats up for election and two seats on the Champlain Valley School Board. The deadline for candidates to file intent forms with the town clerk to be on the ballot is Jan. 25. The selectboard seats currently held by Macaig and Gordon St. Hilaire are up for election. On the school board, the seats currently held by Josilyn Adams and Brendan McMahon are up for election.

The bill passed by the House on Tuesday also gives towns the flexibility to push back the date of Town Meeting Day.