Brandon nixes voting switch

BRANDON — Voters here resoundingly defeated a proposal to switch from Australian ballot to a town meeting floor vote on town and school budgets.
The question was asked separately in a school warning and a town warning because the budgets are warned and voted on separately. The school vote results were 1,000-333 against going to a floor vote. Town results were 1,011-326.
Brandon saw voter turnout higher than normal at 47 percent, according to Town Clerk Sue Gage.
Two petitions circulated in September to add the question of changing voting at town meeting from Australian ballot back to a floor vote to the town’s Election Day warning. The effort was mounted by Brandon taxpayers Lynn and Jim Wilson and Janet Mondlak with the hope of changing the course of the last two years of budget re-votes in Brandon.
Instead of voting on the town and school budgets by Australian ballot, the budgets would be discussed, debated, amended if necessary, and voted on by voice vote or a show of hands from the floor at town meeting. Paper ballots are possible at a floor vote. If one person requests a paper ballot at town meeting and the request supported by at least seven voters, the town clerk is required to hand out paper ballots.
Floor voting can make for a longer evening, but the town’s business is completed that night. Petitions for re-vote within 30 days of the floor vote would still be possible, but perhaps less likely.
The downside is that absentee ballots would not longer be accepted. Voting would take place at town meeting and at no other time. Those against the measure cited the fact that the housebound, the elderly, parents without childcare, college students out of state, and residents who move south for the winter would be unable to attend town meeting.
Only about 40 people attended a public meeting on the issue Monday night to discuss the pros and cons of floor voting. University of Vermont History Professor and Brandon resident Kevin Thornton said that floor voting would help end the divisiveness that has settled in Brandon over the budget and the re-votes.
“It’s killing our town, and it’s paralyzing our town government,” he said. “Democracy is about deliberation and there is no better platform for deliberation than town meeting. Town meeting is dying, and the turnout here tonight is proof of that.”
But Brandon resident Brent Bueller said that the selectboard was unable to answer key budget questions at this year’s town meeting, which would be key if discussion and floor voting were to happen that night.
“It would not have been appropriate to vote at that time because there wasn’t enough information,” he said.
In the end, Brandon will stick with Australian ballot, although perhaps the push to change to a floor vote will increase currently dismal attendance at town meeting.
Brandon voters approved switching from a floor vote to Australian ballot or paper ballot voting in 1993. Like many Vermont towns, attendance at the town meeting was on the decline and the move to Australian ballot came in an effort to boost voter participation. Now, a many Vermont towns use Australian ballot, with only the smallest towns, like Whiting, still voting all of its business from the floor. Other towns use a combination of floor voting and Australian ballot. Bristol votes its budget from the floor, as does Pittsford and Proctor, but candidates and other articles are voted by Australian ballot.

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