BRATTLEBORO—Elections for town offices and the Windham Southeast School District will take place on Tuesday, March 2.
The three-year Selectboard seat now held by Brandie Starr will be on the ballot, as will the two one-year seats currently held by Ian Goodnow and Daniel Quipp.
Starr, who has served since 2018, told The Commons on Monday that she has not yet decided about whether to seek another term.
Quipp, a board member since 2019, announced his intent to seek reelection on Jan. 8 on his campaign Facebook page. On Monday, Goodnow, newly elected in 2020, confirmed that he, too, would seek to continue serving on the board.
Two three-year seats on the Unified School Board, now held by Timothy Maciel and David Schoales, will also be on the ballot, as well as one-year terms for moderator (Lawrin Crispe) and first constable (Richard H. Cooke) and three-year terms for lister (Katherine Dowd) and trustee of public funds (Deborah Zak).
Seats for Representative Town Meeting will also appear on the ballot. In District 1, there are 16 three-year seats, seven two-year seats, and two one-year seats. District 2 has 13 three-year seats, and District 3 has 15 three-year seats and three one-year seats.
More seats may be available if Town Meeting members resign prior to the ballot deadline.
Residents wishing to receive their ballots in the mail this year will need to contact the Town Clerk’s office or log on to their My Voter Page at mvp.vermont.gov.
No bulk mailing of ballots
At its Jan. 5 meeting, the Selectboard agreed with Town Clerk Hilary Francis’s recommendation the town continue its tradition of mailing ballots only to voters who request them.
The Legislature is considering an emergency bill that would allow Selectboards to authorize all registered voters to receive ballots in the mail for Town Meeting Day on March 2.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state automatically bulk mailed ballots for the November presidential election to all registered Vermont voters.
The potential legislation would also allow Selectboards to move their Annual Town Meeting to a different day as well as provide the secretary of state with more authority to direct town clerks in the preparation for March, Francis wrote in a Jan. 5 memo to the Selectboard.
But, she wrote, “At this point in time, it is my recommendation that we do not mail ballots to all active registered voters, but rather focus our attention on promoting the need to request absentee ballots, similar to what happened in August.”
A request to receive ballots via the post office is active for one calendar year, Francis explained.
According to Francis, the logistics of preparing and bulk mailing ballots outweigh the potential increase in voter turnout.
“The average turnout for this type of Town Meeting Day election tends to be between 15 to 20 percent of our voter checklist,” Francis wrote, adding the percentage would probably increase with a bulk mailing. However, she doubted whether it would reach the same levels as it did with the November presidential election.
“In November, we saw high mail-in voter turnout; however, the overall percentage of voters was actually slightly less than the 2016 General Election participation,” Francis wrote.
The top logistical issue is time, she said.
For example, all candidates for local offices in Vermont have until Jan. 25 to submit their paperwork for the March local elections. From there, each town clerk’s office must create the ballots, proof them, test them in their electronic vote tabulators, and get them printed.
Francis wrote that her office has to prepare approximately 8,000 envelopes in time for early voting, which begins a little more than two weeks later on Feb. 10.
“We do not have the personnel to do this type of mailing in our office, and having a number of volunteers in our office at that time would be challenging for social distancing purposes,” she wrote.
Consistency was another issue, Francis added. The Windham Southeast School District will also hold board elections on Town Meeting Day. As a unified school district, the WSSD is required to distribute ballots in the same way across all the towns the district serves.
In other words, voters might end up confused or missing ballots if the town distributed its ballots through a bulk mailing and the school district only by request.
Finally, the cost of mass mailing ballots is not in the budget for the current fiscal year, she said.
At the board meeting, Francis also noted that mailing ballots could have unintended consequences. The practice could favor homeowners and renters who are more financially stable and less likely to change addresses during the year, she said.
“Certain people won’t have to call [the clerk’s office] ever, and certain people will have to call constantly,” Francis told the board.
Voters cannot vote in person at the Town Clerk’s office in March, as the Municipal Center is closed to the public in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Francis confirmed in an email.
Voters in Vermont can register at olvr.vermont.gov or by contacting their town clerk.
Voters can update their mailing and physical address as well as request an absentee ballot — also referred to as an early ballot — through the state’s My Voter Page.
Consent of Candidate forms must be filed in the clerk’s office no later than 5 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 25 in order to have their name placed on the ballot. Call (802-251-8129) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) the town clerk’s office to request the form.
In-person balloting will take place at American Legion Post 5 on Linden Street, and the Annual Representative Town Meeting is scheduled for Saturday, March 20, likely via Zoom, Francis said.