BRATTLEBORO — As voting rights are under attack nationally, Brattleboro residents voted in 2019 to go a different path and expand the right to vote in local elections to 16- and 17-year-olds.
On Feb. 11, however, Gov. Phil Scott signaled he would veto this change to the town's charter.
Gov. Scott has hidden behind cries for “local control” in burdening local school officials with mask policy-setting and blowback. But when it comes to expanding voting rights, apparently he has no respect for local control.
Three years ago, on March 5, 2019, in a town-wide vote with an overwhelming majority of 908 to 408, Brattleboro residents chose a different direction: to expand eligibility to vote.
As stated on the ballot, “'Voters,' for the purposes of voting at town meeting and serving at the Representative Town Meeting, and serving on the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Brattleboro Union High School #6 Board, shall mean all persons resident in town who have reached the age of sixteen years and taken the Voter's Oath.”
Last year, the Vermont House of Representatives voted 102–42 on a bill led by Reps. Emilie Kornheiser, Mollie Burke, and Tristan Toleno, all of Brattleboro, to approve the town's charter change.
Since then, Sen. Jeanette White led the Senate Committee on Government Operations through this vote, and this past Friday Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint led the entire Senate through a 20–9 vote, which will send the proposed charter change to the governor's desk.
It is unfortunate that our democratically elected governor has said he will veto this step forward for democracy and local control.
He should think twice about his own credibility and integrity before he rejects this change to Brattleboro's town charter.
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In the late '90s, as a student at Brattleboro Union High School, I campaigned for student seats on the Vermont State Board of Education - including a student vote on the board. Elder members of the Legislature and board point-blank questioned me on the intelligence and mental capacity of youth.
Fortunately, a majority of their colleagues voted for a bill introduced by former state Rep. Gini Milkey of Brattleboro to create the student seats. Gov. Howard Dean ended up appointing me as the first high school student voting member.
When we share power with the next generation, we invite them to take responsibility.
For our long-term collective health, we need all the people we can get.
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Young people are the future of our society. Windham County's population is among one of the oldest in the state, and Vermont's median age is about five years older than the national average.
Gov. Scott has said that reversing this trend is a priority of his administration. His apparent plan to try to cancel the votes of Brattleboro residents so he can prevent young adults from voting in local elections is a strange choice, given his stated goals.
Right now, we are facing a major workforce shortage. From a recent conversation with Rep. Toleno, I learned that during the pandemic, Vermont lost 30,000 workers. Although some have returned, our state is still about 19,000 short of our needs, making us the state with the fourth-largest labor shortage in the country.
Meanwhile, many Vermonters under the age of 18 work and pay taxes. We should be supporting them to stay and contribute to our state. But they currently can't even vote for who will represent their interests on the Selectboard.
Maybe the governor - who talks out of one side of his mouth about local control - should respect the overwhelming majority of Brattleboro voters who chose to invest in our young people and to trust them with the vote.
“Brattleboro voters believe in our youth and understand the value of bringing them deeper into the community,” Rep. Kornheiser told me. “By trusting our youth with the vote, we show them that their voices and their actions matter.”
I'm glad that at least people in this town understand the value of young people and have fought for their inclusion in our local democratic process.
It's not too late for the governor to get on board and walk his talk.