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COVID-19 will affect processes for town meetings, elections

Consent of Candidate forms for municipal elections on Town Meeting Day, Tuesday, March 2, are now available from town clerks around Windham County.

Because of a one-year change in Vermont state law due to the COVID-19 pandemic, petition requirements have been waived for candidates to have their names placed on the ballots for this election.

Instead, a Consent of Candidate form (bit.ly/595-consent-of-candidate) must be filed by 5 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 25. Forms can be mailed or emailed to your local town clerk.

Petitions for placing articles on the Town Meeting warrant are still required. Forms may be obtained from your town clerk’s office. Petitions for warrant articles require the signatures of registered voters (the exact number varies by town) and must be submitted to the town clerk’s office by Thursday, Jan. 14.

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns has produced a website that will help answer any questions at vlct.org/town-meeting-covid-19-faqs.

Here’s how some of the towns in Windham County plan on handling Town Meeting Day on Tuesday, March 2.

Athens: The Selectboard voted to conduct town meeting this year by Australian ballot, as allowed by Act 162.

An online informational meeting will be held prior to the March 2 vote for community discussion of the articles to be voted on. Absentee ballots are available from the Town Clerk prior to Town Meeting Day.

Guilford: The Selectboard voted on Dec. 14 to adopt Australian Ballot voting for Annual Town Meeting.

Marlboro: Town Clerk Forrest Holzapfel wrote that “after meeting with the Selectboard on Dec. 17, and considering all scenarios, we have decided to mail Town Meeting ballots to all active voters, as was done by the state for the November election. This means that all 715 active voters will be receiving their ballot in the mail with postage paid in both directions.”

Holzapfel wrote that the ballot “will contain the election of town officers as well the choice to vote yes or no on all the articles on the Town and School warnings. Brace yourselves, because the ballot will be many pages!”

By Vermont law, the early/absentee ballots will be sent out by Feb. 10. Voting in person will also be available on Tuesday, March 2 at the Town House in Marlboro Center from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.

Newfane: According to the minutes of the Dec. 21 meeting of the Selectboard, the board voted unanimously to move all of 2021 Town Meeting business to Australian Ballot.

The board made the decision after considering “the residents’ average age that have attended past Town Meetings, and the number of absentee ballots received from the presidential election in November.”

The vote took place “upon careful evaluation of the information available, the unprecedented circumstances, and recommendations from health officers and state officials.”

Stratton: According to minutes from the Dec. 14 Selectboard meeting, board members and Town Clerk Kent Young discussed how the 2021 Town Meeting will be conducted.

The parties “all believed that holding the standard floor meeting, as we had done for the recent School District meeting, should be safe and sufficient.”

The board said “if the situation at that time presents itself as unsafe, the town can arrange for a postponement to a date certain.”

Townshend: At its Dec. 22 meeting, the Selectboard approved Town Meeting by Australian ballot.

Westminster: The Selectboard is considering delaying Town Meeting until the weather is warm enough to hold the meeting outdoors.

Whitingham: At the Dec. 16 Selectboard meeting, the board decided unanimously that “the safest way to hold town meeting is to put all articles on the Warning onto the ballot and hold remote informational meetings beforehand.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #595 (Wednesday, January 13, 2021). This story appeared on page A3.

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