Brattleboro voting age will remain at 18

Senate fails to override Scott veto of charter change for youth voting

Gov. Phil Scott's veto of Brattleboro's proposed charter change has prevailed, snuffing the town's hopes of allowing teens to vote and run in municipal elections.

On March 31, the Senate failed to override Scott's veto of H.361. Fifteen senators voted in favor of overriding the governor and 12 voted against doing so. A two-thirds majority was required.

In 2019, more than two-thirds of Brattleboro voters approved a charter amendment that would have allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to vote and run in municipal elections.

Brattleboro's Selectboard Chair ​​Ian Goodnow told VTDigger on March 31 that the goal of the charter change was to get residents involved in the community from a young age. Vermont has an aging population and is losing young residents - an issue raised by both Scott and lawmakers - and Goodnow said giving teens a voice in local issues could connect them to local issues.

“It's a common sense thing,” Goodnow said. “We want to retain young people in Vermont. We want to make Vermonters feel like they are heard and a part of their communities … because people who feel engaged, who feel listened to, can feel like they're a part of the process. They want to stay.”

As a Dillon's Rule state, Vermont requires the Legislature's rubber stamp for local charter changes to take hold.

Earlier this legislative session, both the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved H.361, by 102-42 in the House and 20-9 in the Senate. Scott vetoed the measure in February, and the House promptly voted 102-47 to override his veto.

The Senate's vote margin upon the bill's original passage in February would have overturned Scott's veto, but four senators had withdrawn their support by the time of the March 31 vote: Sen. Thomas Chittenden, D-Chittenden; Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle; Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor; and Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex/Orleans.

Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham, hails from Brattleboro. She initially voted yes on the measure but did not vote on March 31, as she was presiding over the chamber due to Lt. Gov. Molly Gray's absence. Balint's spokesperson Carolyn Wesley said had she been able to vote, Balint would have been “a resounding yes,” but the override vote would still have failed.

Windham County's own Sen. Jeanette White, a Democrat, supported the veto override, but told her colleagues on the Senate floor that others had raised concerns over the charter amendment's legal technicalities. If people under 18 serve in local office, she said, they may have to sign contracts before they are legal adults.

As leader of the Senate, Balint worked to whip the votes as the Senate for weeks delayed action on the override vote. In a written statement following Thursday's vote, she said several senators “unfortunately” dropped their initial support for the bill, citing the same concerns over contracts.

“I remain inspired by this charter change and what it could mean for getting young people engaged in our democracy at a critical time,” she said. “While I'm disappointed, I'm hopeful. In 2018, Montpelier passed a charter to allow all residents to vote in local elections regardless of citizenship status. It took several sessions - but it passed the Legislature in 2021, along with a similar charter from Winooski.”

Reached by phone following the Senate's vote, Goodnow said he had not heard of the concerns over potential contract signings until this week.

“It's just so disappointing to me when you've got a community that voices so clearly a belief in something … and then it's just just rejected for these semantics that are brought up at the last minute, conveniently, that weren't hashed out earlier in the process,” he said. “It's disappointing and it feels a little disenfranchising.”

Scott's spokesperson, Jason Maulucci, said in a statement after the override vote that the governor “appreciates the bipartisan support from the Senate today.”

“As he said when he vetoed the bill, he appreciates the willingness of youth to get involved in their communities, but doesn't believe election laws and eligibility should be done in a patchwork fashion,” Maulucci said.

Balint is not expected to remain in the state Senate next year. She is relinquishing her seat to run for Vermont's open U.S. House seat. But she said on March 31 that she is “confident that Windham County legislators will continue to champion this issue.”

Elizabeth McLoughlin, another Brattleboro Selectboard member who has championed the charter amendment, also said she hadn't heard of the contract concerns until Balint's office contacted her the day before the override vote. McLoughlin said she isn't sure what the next steps are for the charter amendment.

“This was a very grassroots request, and it'll have to really go back to that point,” she said. “I'm sure that the first thing that needs to be done is have a legal analysis of this latest contract issue. And then from there, you know, it'll have to start all over again with another legislative session.”

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