Select Board Wades Through Uncharted Territory

by June Pichel Cook

CRAFTSBURY – Holding town meeting via an Australian ballot process versus an in-person town meeting on March 2 is “uncharted territory” for the Craftsbury Select Board. The Vermont Legislature passed ACT 162, which took effect October 5, 2020, allowing municipalities to use Australian ballot for the annual or any special town meetings during 2021.

Select Board Chair Bruce Urie said, “We are doing the best we can in wading through uncharted territory. We expect there are going to be some glitches; everyone is looking at this.”

He said the board was making an effort to reach people who do not use Zoom or Front Porch Forum by mailing a postcard to all residents with important dates relative to the annual meeting.

The Annual Town Report must be available to voters 10 days before the town meeting; the warning will be posted on January 31. Town reports will be ready as soon as they can be printed and sent out, Urie said. The deadline for submitting articles and committee reports to the board is January 14.

The Australian Ballot will list all Articles. Individual appropriation requests typically under one “bunch” must be voted separately: Memorial Day, Recreation Committee, Village Improvement Society, Cemeteries, Block Party Fund, and Historical Society. Additionally, organizations and agencies requesting funds must also be listed and voted on separately.

“We have to take all the appropriations we normally vote as a bunch and have separate articles,” he said. “There can be no amendments.”

Urie said the current ballot is two pages and but he expects a third page will be added.

The Australian Ballot allows no amendments and is a straight up or down vote.

Anyone seeking office must sign a consent form to be on the ballot; the consent form must be submitted to the Town Clerk’s office by January 25. ACT 162 waived the requirement to collect voter signatures to have a candidate’s name placed on the ballot.

Voters may call the Town Clerk’s office to request an absentee ballot.

“Their names will be placed on a list as soon as we can we’ll start taking names,” Urie said. “An informational post card will be mailed out.”

The polls will be open all day on March 2, Town Meeting Day, for in-person voting. Urie said a strict mask mandate will be in effect.

The informational meeting held prior to the town meeting has not been finalized. The board is not sure an in-person meeting can be held at the school.

“We will have an informational meeting but haven’t finalized how we are going to do it,” he said. “Whether it will be by Zoom with small pods or one meeting or in-person. We are still working this out and it will be publicized as much as we can.”

“People can still come down to vote,” he said. “We are going to be careful about wearing masks.”

ACT 162 gave towns the choice to continue with floor meetings, but the town is required to comply with all relevant health and safety guidance from the CDC, VT Department of Health, Agency of Commerce and Community Development, and Secretary of State.

The board voted earlier to hold town meeting remotely and use an Australian Ballot process.