Town Meeting Reminders
Getting Ready at the Polls
Town clerks should furnish presiding officers with one or two certified copies of the checklist, depending on whether the town has opted not to use an exit checklist. 17 V.S.A. § 2507.
Town clerks must also deliver sufficient quantities of the ballots to the presiding officer. 17 V.S.A. § 2479.
The presiding officer should assign specific duties to each election official, ensuring that the election officials work in pairs, with each pair containing members from different political parties if possible. 17 V.S.A. § 2562.
In an Australian ballot election, the presiding officer declares the polls open on the day of the election between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. (the specific time is set by the board of civil authority or by the voters), and declares the polls closed at 7 p.m. 17 V.S.A § 2581.
Town meeting begins at a time designated by the legislative body, unless the town has voted a specific time at a previous meeting. 17 V.S.A. § 2655.
Public Discussion and Politicking in the Polling Place
In towns that start their annual meeting on one of the three days preceding the first Tuesday in March, and use the Australian ballot system on Tuesday, public discussions of ballot issues and all other issues appearing in the warning, other than election of officers, is permitted at the Saturday, Sunday, or Monday meeting. 17 V.S.A. § 2640(c).
Neither the warning, the notice, nor the ballot itself shall include any opinion or comment by any town body or officer or other person on any matter to be voted on. 17 V.S.A. § 2666.
In an Australian ballot election the presiding officer should ensure that within the building containing the polling place no campaign literature, stickers, buttons, information on write-on candidates, or political materials are placed, handed out, or allowed to remain and that no candidate, election official, or other person distributes election materials, solicits voters, or otherwise campaigns. 17 V.S.A. § 2508.
Outside the building, the presiding officer must ensure that voters can enter and leave the polling place without interference from candidates or other citizens. 17 V.S.A. § 2508. The provisions of this section apply equally to election of candidates as to votes on public questions, including the budget, if done by Australian ballot vote.
Maintaining Order at Town Meeting
In traditional town meeting the moderator must follow reasonable and necessary procedures to ensure that people who are not voters of the town do not vote. 17 V.S.A. § 2656.
The moderator must preserve order in the conduct of business and debate. If a person, after notice, continues to be disorderly and refuses to withdraw from the meeting, the moderator may order him to be removed by the constable or some other person. 17 V.S.A § 2656. A person who disturbs town meeting may be fined $200 by the district court.
Remember that while Robert’s Rules of Order, or some other rule of order, must be followed at town meeting, these rules have been modified by state law. For example, the assembly must not reconsider articles already voted once consideration of another article has begun; when a vote declared by the moderator is immediately questioned by one voter, the moderator shall divide the meeting, and if requested by seven voters, the moderator must take the vote by paper ballot; the assembly may take no binding action during the “other business” portion of the meeting; the moderator shall allow sufficient time for voters to cast paper ballots whenever that method of voting is to be used. 17 V.S.A. §§ 2660(d); 2661(a).
Accessibility of Town Meeting
The legislative body must take reasonable measures to ensure that elderly or disabled voters may conveniently attend town meeting. Sign language interpreters must be provided, if necessary. 17 V.S.A. § 2667 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Town meeting must be held in an accessible location.
The board of civil authority must take reasonable measures to ensure that disabled and elderly voters may conveniently and secretly cast their votes. If it is not possible to hold the election in an accessible location, election officials must be permitted to carry a ballot to an elderly or disabled person in order to permit that person to mark his or her ballot while in a motor vehicle adjacent to the polling place. 17 V.S.A. § 2502.
A voter who declares to the presiding officer that he or she needs assistance to vote may bring a person of his or her choice into the voting booth (so long as it is not the voter’s employer or union representative) or the voter can ask the presiding officer to direct elections officials to assist the voter. Those rendering assistance may not divulge information about the choice of the voter or manner in which the vote was cast. 17 V.S.A. § 2569.
Election of Officers
In order to be elected as a write-in candidate in an Australian ballot election when no other candidate has received a greater number of votes, a candidate must receive 30 votes, or the votes of one percent of the registered voters of the town, whichever is less. 17 V.S.A. § 2682(c).
The offices of selectboard, lister, and auditor must be elected by paper ballot (unless it is done by Australian ballot). The offices of road commissioner and water commissioner, if elected, must also be elected by paper ballot. 17 V.S.A. § 2646.
When there is a single candidate, unless any voter opposes this, the town may agree to ask the clerk to cast one ballot for the candidate. 17 V.S.A. § 2660(b).
A majority of those present and voting is required to elect an officer by paper ballot (unless the vote is by Australian ballot.) This means that if there are three candidates, none of whom receive a majority of the votes by the third ballot, you must eliminate the candidate with the least votes and repeat the procedure until someone receives a majority of the votes. 17 V.S.A. § 2660(c).