Isaac Evans-Frantz

Isaac Evans-Frantz, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate

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As voting rights are under attack nationally, Brattleboro residents voted in 2019 to go a different path and expand the right to vote in local elections to 16- and 17-year-olds. Friday, however, Gov. Phil Scott signaled he would veto this change to Brattleboro’s town charter.

Gov. Phil Scott has hidden behind cries for “local control” in burdening local school officials with mask policy-setting and blowback. But when it comes to expanding voting rights, apparently he has no respect for local control.

Three years ago, on March 5, 2019, in a town-wide vote with an overwhelming majority of 908 to 408, Brattleboro residents chose a different direction: to expand eligibility to vote. Last year the Vermont House of Representatives voted 102-42 on a bill led by Reps. Emilie Kornheiser, Mollie Burke and Tristan Toleno, to approve Brattleboro’s charter change. Since then, Sen. Jeannette White led the Senate committee through this vote, and this past Friday Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint led the entire Senate through a 20-9 vote, which will send the proposed charter change to the governor’s desk. It is unfortunate that our democratically elected governor has said he will veto this step forward for democracy and local control – He should think twice about his own credibility and integrity before he vetoes this change to Brattleboro’s town charter.

In the late ‘90s, as a Brattleboro Union High School student, when I campaigned for student seats on the Vermont State Board of Education – including a student vote on the board – elder members of the Legislature and board point-blank questioned me on the intelligence and mental capacity of youth. Fortunately a majority of their colleagues voted for a bill introduced by former state Rep. Gini Milkey of Brattleboro to create the student seats. Gov. Howard Dean ended up appointing me as the first high school student voting member. When we share power with the next generation, we invite them to take responsibility. For our long-term collective health, we need all the people we can get.

Young people are the future of our society. Windham County’s population is among one of the oldest in age in the state, and Vermont’s median age is about 5 years higher than the national average. Gov. Scott has said that reversing this trend is a priority of his administration. His apparent plan to try to cancel the votes of Brattleboro residents, so he can prevent young adults from voting in local elections, is a strange choice given his stated goals.

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Right now we are facing a major workforce shortage. From a recent conversation with Rep. Tristan Toleno, I learned that during the pandemic, Vermont lost 30,000 people from the workforce. Although some have returned, Vermont is still about 19,000 workers short of our needs. We have the fourth largest labor shortage in the country. Meanwhile, many Vermonters under the age of 18 work and pay taxes. We should be supporting them to stay and contribute to our state. But they currently can’t even vote for who will represent their interests on the select board.

Maybe the governor – who talks out of one side of his mouth about local control – should respect the overwhelming majority of Brattleboro voters who chose to invest in our young people and to trust them with the vote.

“Brattleboro voters believe in our youth,” Rep. Kornheiser told me, “and understand the value of bringing them deeper into the community. By trusting our youth with the vote, we show them that their voices and their actions matter.”

I’m glad that at least people in this town understand the value of young people and have fought for their inclusion in our local democratic process. It’s not too late for the governor to get on board and walk his talk.

Isaac Evans-Frantz is a 2001 graduate of Brattleboro Union High School and served on the Vermont State Board of Education, 2000-2001, as the first high school student with the right to vote on the board. He currently lives in Brattleboro and is the director of Action Corps, a grassroots humanitarian advocacy organization. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.