Rockingham looks at boosting voter turnout

Town Meeting attendance has dipped since the pandemic, and a citizens group is exploring ideas to reverse the trend

Concerned that poor Town Meeting attendance is not good for a direct democracy, an informal group of citizens is trying to figure out how to get more people to attend.

Only 3% of the town's 3,819 registered voters attended the Annual Town Meeting in 2023. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, Rockingham and its villages have a population of 4,832.

At the 2023 meeting, town officials agreed to study what might be the causes of such low voter turnout and to see if changes to the meeting would help more people attend.

To that end, the Selectboard is conducting a survey to explore when to hold the meeting, whether providing transportation and child care would let more voters attend, and whether enabling voters to participate in the meeting via Zoom or similar online access would be an improvement.

The survey, which runs until Wednesday, Jan. 31, is available in print at the Town Hall, Village Square Booksellers, Lisai's Market, the Bellows Falls Senior Center, Saxtons River Village Market, and at the Rockingham Free Public Library. It can also be accessed through a link on the town's website at or directly at

The citizen work group, organized by Steve Crofter, includes Meg Lucas, Stuart Brown, Barbara Ternes, Wayne Blanchard, and Carolyn Anhalt.

They will host a program at the Rockingham Free Public Library on Saturday, Feb. 24, from 10:30 a.m. to noon, "Introduction to Town Meeting: How to Participate," aimed at people who are new to Town Meeting or unsure why they might want to participate.

"We'll provide information about Town Meeting, how it works, and how individuals can most effectively participate," said Crofter. "We'll also be prepared to help with voter registration for unregistered residents."

Lucas noted that "we're so fortunate to have this form of direct democracy here in New England. It would be a shame to lose it."

Voters who attend Town Meeting in person can discuss, modify, and vote on articles in a very personal form of democracy, she said.

At the same time, having just a handful of voters decide on budget items involving millions of taxpayer dollars is far from an ideal situation, she acknowledged.

The Covid pandemic has also had an effect on Town Meeting. For two years, the meeting was held online, and attendance has remained frustratingly low since then.

Crofter said that the group is looking into a number attendance-boosting measures, including better publicity for the meeting, transportation, child care and hospitality at the meeting, and changing the time and date.

Noting that controversy often sparks attendance, Crofter said the group is looking into the idea of making one of the budget items a separate article that would be discussed and voted on separately from the rest of the budget.

"We're trying to think of something that will get more people to come in," Crofter said. "The more community spirit the town has, the more people will attend. We're looking at what we can do at Town Meeting to make people proud to be in this town."

How to register to vote

To register to vote, you must fill out an application, which must be approved by the town clerk. Voters may register to vote up to and including the day of the election.

Registering online could introduce delays to the process, and town officials recommend that you register to vote no later than a few days before the election or Town Meeting.

If you are registering to vote in Vermont for the first time, you must include a photocopy of an acceptable form of ID such as a valid photo ID, driver's license, passport, a current utility bill, or current bank statement with your address.

Anyone interested in discussing Town Meeting attendance can contact Crofter at 802-275-4646 or [email protected].

This News item by Robert F. Smith was written for The Commons.

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