Governor vetoes Brattleboro charter change

Lawmakers will push for override to pass the bill, which would allow Brattleboro to permit 16- and 17-year-olds to vote and seek local elected office

Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a charter change on Feb. 28 that would have granted 16- and 17-year-olds in Brattleboro the right to vote and run for office in municipal elections.

On Tuesday, Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, who cosponsored the bill with the town's two other representatives, Mollie Burke and Tristan Toleno, said that the delegation hopes to begin the process of attempting to override the governor's veto.

This is the Republican governor's third veto of the legislative session. In a letter accompanying his veto of H.361, Scott implied that lawmakers were trying to have it both ways - lowering the age to vote but raising it in the context of criminal prosecutions.

“The Legislature has repeatedly raised the age of accountability to reduce the consequences when young adults commit criminal offenses. They have argued this approach is justified because these offenders are not mature enough to contemplate the full range of risks and impacts of their actions,” Scott wrote.

He added that such policy debates should occur on a statewide - not local - basis.

“I do not support creating a patchwork of core election laws and policies that are different from town to town. The fundamentals of voting should be universal and implemented statewide,” he wrote.

A Dillon's Rule state, Vermont requires municipalities to get the green light from Montpelier before amending their charters. Brattleboro voters first approved the charter amendment in 2019 by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

“Please respect the will of our local vote for this Brattleboro-only initiative that only affects our municipal elections,” Brattleboro Selectboard Chair Elizabeth McLoughlin and Vice-Chair Ian Goodnow wrote to Scott after lawmakers sent the bill to his desk.

“By saying yes, you will help the youth of Brattleboro to develop an early, healthy civic investment and engagement in their community and for both our youth and the people of Brattleboro to be truly heard,” they said in the letter, also published in last week's Commons.

The Legislature may ultimately vote to override Scott's veto. The measure passed with 102 votes in the House and 20 votes in the Senate. If no lawmaker switches their vote - and isn't absent - legislative leaders in both chambers would be able to just barely get the two-thirds majority required to override.

The House would have to act first, as the legislation originated in that body.

Lawmakers also narrowly overrode the governor's veto last year on a similar matter when Scott attempted to block charter changes in Winooski and Montpelier allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections.

That measure is now law, and non-citizens in those two municipalities were able to cast their ballots on Town Meeting Day this year.

A potential override

Reached on Tuesday afternoon, Kornheiser, who called the legislation “such a powerful opportunity to lift up both our local voices and our youth,” told The Commons that she and her colleagues are “going to try to get our ducks in a row to make that happen.”

But, she added, “the governor has vetoed quite a few bills recently, so we may need to wait our turn.”

Although Scott had hinted at the veto after the bill had passed the Senate, the governor's action still came as a disappointment to Kornheiser.

“I was hopeful that the 100-plus [Brattleboro Union High School] students who called his office over the last week and the letter from the Selectboard would carry some weight in his ultimate decision,” she said.

That effort was led by a student activist, Lily Charkey, who said on Tuesday that she has been working on the issue for a few years.

“I think that sends a really bad message about how our state's lawmakers and town lawmakers interact with each other,” she said, also bristling at the notion of Brattleboro having to have the governor's blessing to enact something approved heartily in a town-wide vote.

“The governor should have passed it just as kind of a courtesy to the town,” she said.

In the days between the law's approval by the Senate and the governor's veto, Charkey kicked into action to urge students to contact the governor's office to urge Scott to sign the legislation.

She said she mobilized the Student Council at BUHS, on which she serves, convinced the principals to broadcast information by email to the entire student body, and engaged social studies teachers to raise awareness of the legislation in their classes.

“I think that students, especially in local elections, should have a right to be involved in the process because it directly affects them, especially with stuff at the school board and other education things that really affects students the most,” Charkey said.

“I think these issues affect young people the most, and especially with my generation, we're seeing a lot of young people who are really interested more [than in previous generations],” she continued. “And I think that lawmakers, the representatives and senators, should do whatever they can to support that.”

Now 18 and no longer directly affected by the legislation, Charkey told The Commons that she would be heading to the polls to cast her ballot as a registered voter.

“I personally plan on being really careful who I vote for,” she said.

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