MONTPELIER — A bill allowing municipalities to conduct Town Meeting voting by mail or move the date, in order to allow residents to participate safely in local government during the COVID-19 pandemic, passed the Vermont State Senate unanimously on Thursday.
The bill, H. 48, allows cities and towns to conduct all voting by Australian ballot, move the date and time of Town Meeting so they can be held outside or when the pandemic has lessened, or hold Town Meeting as scheduled.
The bill also specifically allows Brattleboro to hold its Representative Town Meeting electronically.
State Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, the chairperson of the Senate Government Operations Committee, said after hearing testimony from town and city clerks and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, the committee decided that prescribing voting by mail would not work for some communities.
“In the end, one size fits all didn’t work with towns as diverse as Halifax and Montgomery,” she said.
Gov. Phil Scott had sought universal vote-by-mail for town meeting, but has indicated he would not oppose the bill if the Legislature didn’t make it mandatory.
State Sen. Corey Parent, R-Franklin, also said he would have preferred mandatory voting by mail, but would still support the bill. “I don’t feel it puts the health of Vermonters first,” he said.
The bill was passed by the state House of Representatives on Tuesday.
In other actions, the Senate approved a joint resolution clearing the way for Gov. Scott to deliver his budget address next Thursday, Jan. 21.