'Youth vote' coming to Nov. ballot

REFORMER FILE PHOTORio Daims, youth vote coordinator at Brattleboro Common Sense, right, obtains a signature for a petition to allow 16-and 17-year-old residents to vote on local issues.

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BRATTLEBORO — Enough signatures were collected for the November ballot to include a question on what's being called the "youth vote."

Although the signatures were not submitted in time for Tuesday's Select Board meeting, a special meeting will be held at 9:30 a.m. Friday so the item can be placed on the ballot in time.

"Now, we need you to not pass judgment on the youth vote, but just to put it on the ballot," Rio Daims, youth vote coordinator for Brattleboro Common Sense, told the board Tuesday. "The amendment process following this petition already requires a decision by the state Legislature. It is not town government's business to shortcut the Legislature's decision."

An affirmative vote at the polls, then approval from the Legislature, would amend the town's charter to allow 16- and 17-year-old residents to vote on local issues and serve as a school board member or Town Meeting member who votes at annual Representative Town Meeting. Town Clerk Hilary Francis said 455 valid signatures were submitted to her office and 449 were needed.

The petition's language was drafted by Town Moderator Lawrin Crispe and attorney Paul Gillies. The initiative has received endorsements from state Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham District, and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman.

"We have been getting a lot of public support in the past few months and we have been planning to get the youth vote on the ballot for the November election," Daims said.

The deadline to do so is Friday.

Daims told the board it was a "big surprise for us" to be given different information about the deadline three times. Originally, she said, organizers were told they had until the Thursday before the Tuesday board meeting to get all of the required signatures to trigger an agenda item.

"We knew we couldn't get 150 signatures that we needed in that two hours until deadline," she said.

But later, Daims said, organizers were told they had until Monday to secure the signatures.

"We knew we could make that time, but sadly, we were called back again and told it was not going to happen for the November elections because we actually did need all the signatures for that day, the 16th, to get on the agenda for today's meeting, and it was the last meeting of the Select Board before the deadline for the November elections," she said.

A similar effort in March 2015 saw the charter amendment fail in a 679-390 vote.

Citing the Open Meeting Law, Select Board Chairwoman Kate O'Connor said the board could not talk about the issue Tuesday because it was not warned on the agenda for the meeting. It could, she said, be brought up at the next meeting and the measure could be voted on annual Town Meeting Day in March.

But Daims said her group did not want to wait several months to have the vote.

"We think that it would kinda cool down by then," she said. "We wouldn't get very many people excited about it because we've been advertising everything we want for the November ballot."

Town Manager Peter Elwell said the required number of signatures had been submitted by Monday.

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"It seems the timing was just so tight between these several days that the threshold of the signatures needed hadn't been reached in time for the warning of the meeting," he said.

Board member Shanta Lee Gander said she wanted to learn from the experience and make the process less confusing.

"Because I know how it feels to be on the other end of getting like eight different answers for something that should be a clear pathway, especially when people want to participate in a democratic process," she said.

Board Vice Chairwoman Brandie Starr called the situation "unfortunate."

"I'm not feeling good about this," she said.

Gander, Starr and board member David Schoales then agreed to meet Friday.

Pete "Nick" Nickerson, of Brattleboro, asked the board "not to support that vote."

"My initial impression of that presentation was that very young, inexperienced people who have never held a job, never been self sufficient, never had to pay the bills or stand on their own two feet, are asking to make laws over people who have," he said. "I found that obnoxious and I'm asking you not to support that vote."

Board member Tim Wessel said the Select Board would not necessarily be supporting the charter change by putting it on the ballot.

"Squash it," said Nickerson.

Gander said board members would not be making any judgments of character "because sometimes people who do hold jobs and have so-called responsibilities aren't the most responsible people."

Mark Tully, who has been helping with the initiative, said he saw people who opposed the charter amendment sign the petition to put it on the ballot "so that democracy could work."

"I've been witnessing the youth work this campaign for months and I just wanted to point out that this vote you're taking is to put it on the ballot, and that's it," he told the board. "From then on, it's a couple of months of public debate. I can't wait for the youth to be able to answer that and many other questions."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays

at cmays@reformer.com, at

@CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.