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BRATTLEBORO — State Rep. Mollie Burke, D-Windham-8, suggested students who want to see the Youth Vote initiative move forward write to the governor.

On Thursday, Burke met with members of the Student Council at Brattleboro Union High School to discuss the potential town charter change that would give 16- to 18-year-olds the power to vote for local offices, and serve as members of Representative Town Meeting and the Select Board.

“They were really engaged and interested, and it made me realize how great it would be if this could pass,” Burke said in an interview Sunday. “One of the arguments in favor of doing this is that if we want to our young people to stay around, we need to show them they are part of our community and they can help to shape our community. And I think it gives them an investment in their town and their community if they can vote and possibly be Town Meeting members or possibly be on the town Select Board.”

Burke’s granddaughter and Student Council member Eva Gould asked Burke to come speak about the Youth Vote initiative. The two family members had discussed the initiative at a dinner one night.

Students have heard about it before. Burke said BUHS graduate Lily Charkey-Buren, who now attends Middlebury College, talked with students earlier and testified before House and Senate committees.

“So I told them about the process,” Burke said, referring to Student Council members. “It passed the House and Senate in 2022 but it was vetoed by the governor. There were not enough votes in the Senate to override the veto. This year, we brought it forth again, new biennium. It passed by quite a big margin in the House.”

Brattleboro's Youth Vote initiative passes in Senate

Sen. Nader Hashim, D-Windham, of Dummerston, previously told the Reformer the bill passed in the Senate with 18 in favor. Burke said the House will need 100 votes to override a veto and the Senate will need 20.

Burke isn’t sure if it will pass in the Senate. She said she spoke with one of the senators who was absent when the bill was last voted on and said she would support it.

A veto would be “a slap in the face to these kids who are very involved and engaged in current affairs,” Burke said, especially when it passed by a large margin locally on annual Town Meeting Day in March 2019.

“It was great to talk to the students,” she said. “They asked really good questions.”

Burke said the students are “very interested” and want to make the legislation pass.

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“Kids can work at age 16 and they pay taxes,” she said.

Burke noted BUHS student Django Grace, Charkey-Buren, and Select Board Chairman Ian Goodnow testified this year, and the Legislature spends much time discussing Vermont’s aging population and loss of younger citizens.

When an initiative has such large support locally, Burke said, “Why should people in Montpelier say it’s not a good idea? If the community thinks it’s a good idea then why not allow it to happen?”

“It was a decisive vote even though people ask questions like, ‘What percentage of the voters vote?’” she said. “We know with March elections, you don’t get a huge turnout. Still, with the people who voted, it was a decisive victory.”

Residents approved a similar charter amendment in a 908-408 vote, sending the matter to the Legislature. The Youth Vote initiative came from Brattleboro Common Sense, an activist group focused on promoting democracy and other progressive issues.

Last March, the Senate failed to override Scott’s veto of a similar bill. At the time, senators raised concerns about youth serving on select boards because they aren’t allowed to sign contracts by state law.

Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, D-Windham 7, of Brattleboro, previously said the House learned that since select board members sign contracts as a body and not as individuals, “it was actually never a problem.”

Scott had shared concerns last year about how the charter change would further contribute to a patchwork of age requirements in laws. As an example, he noted that the Legislature bumped the age for accountability for criminal offenses to 22.

Last February, the House of Representatives voted in favor of overriding the veto. Then it failed in the Senate.

Jason Maulucci, press secretary for the governor, told the Reformer earlier this month that Scott hasn’t changed his position. In a veto message from last year shared by Maulucci, Scott said he understands “this is a well-intended local issue.”

“I urge the Legislature to take up a thorough and meaningful debate on Vermont’s age of majority and come up with consistent, statewide policy for both voting and criminal justice,” he wrote.

To override a veto, a two-thirds majority is needed in each chamber. Sen. Wendy Harrison, D-Windham District, of Brattleboro, previously told the Reformer she would try to change the minds of senators who opposed the bill earlier this month.