Commentary: Clearing the air around the charter

Unfortunately, I was not at the April 11 Selectboard meeting when the Charter was brought up under updates at the end of the meeting. If I had been, I would have been able to clear up a few questions.

I received an e-mail from the House Government Operations Committee to let me know when the Charlotte Charter was going to come up for discussion in the legislature to give me the chance to provide testimony if I wanted. Lane Morrison, as Chair of the Selectboard and Lynne Jaunich, as one of the authors of the Charter, were copied in that same email. Neither Lane nor Lynne said anything to me about testifying or not, nor were they required to. They were invited to testify, just as I was. They chose to go to Montpelier and testify in person. There was no discussion between the Chair and the rest of the board—either that he was invited to go or that he was going or what he was going to say. That was clear from the April 11 Selectboard meeting discussion. Three of us were invited to testify and three of us did. I sent my testimony as an email, which was acceptable to the committee and they said they would post it to the website for me. I fail to see why my testimony is now described as “cloaked in secrecy.” (See Jane McCullough’s commentary here.)

In my position as election official I will carry out every part of the Charter to the best of my ability, which I have stated previously, “supporting the majority of the voters.” However, also as election official it is my responsibility to point out what may be flaws in this new election process. At the Selectboard meeting held the night before the vote to explain and answer questions about the Charter, where the voter turnout was maybe 30 people, the Selectboard was unable to answer several questions. In particular, the clause that discusses “budget related articles.” There was no clear interpretation by the board on the question, ‘If a budget related article is voted down on the floor of Town Meeting in March, is it then off the ballot for the April vote?’. We have decided in the Charter that money related items will be voted by Australian Ballot by everyone…but then, how is it that a question could be voted down by a few with a hand vote, never getting to the majority for Australian ballot vote?

So, yes, I used the words “messy” and “cumbersome” and from an elections perspective, I feel like that language needs to be clarified and not left up to the interpretation of the Selectboard.

Not having a specific date for the Australian Ballot vote, having the ability to vote 20 days after the floor vote in March, is definitely a concern from the clerk’s office when it comes to getting the ballots printed, mailed out and received back in time for everyone’s vote to be counted. The number of people voting by absentee ballot increases every year and we are sending ballots out of the country as well. Twenty days is a very tight turn around for printing, mailing out and returning. Is it better to have the vote as quick as you can after Town Meeting or is it strategically better to hold off for another 40 days? That should not be a question. Not having a set date for the Australian Ballot vote is hard for people who are travelling, hard to get ballots out and back and easy for anyone to just forget that there is an election.

So, yes, it is my opinion that voting by Australian Ballot increases voter turnout. And yes, it is my opinion that a Charter is not required for that process. And yes, I was asked to testify as the person in charge of elections. I was not asked to “testify positively in support of the majority” of the people who voted the Charter in—I was asked to testify. It has been my experience that in most cases, the people who come up with new legislature have never been on the side of the person who has to put that legislation in action and make it work. Town Clerks across the state are frequently asked by the Secretary of State’s Office for our opinions on their new methods of voter registration, reporting, absentee voting, etc. and changes have been made to their newest voter system because of that feedback. That is because we are the ones who are having to make their legislative changes work in real time.

So, I have no apologies, since I was asked to point out where the difficulties are with this new way of voting the town budget.

Mary Mead
Town clerk/treasurer
Charlotte

Editor’s note: Mary’s testimony to the House Government Operations Committee can be found at goo.gl/LYs18T.

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