A bill that Gov. Phil Scott signed into law on Tuesday will enable Vermont municipalities and school districts to conduct mail-in Town Meeting Day votes this year. It also allows for votes to be delayed until later in the spring, when it might be safer to hold some form of in-person meetings.
"This means they can, if they choose, mail ballots to all registered voters in place of more traditional town meetings, or the typical in-person elections used by many cities and towns," Scott said at a press briefing.
The bill, H.48, seeks to keep residents safe during the coronavirus pandemic by offering flexibility ahead of Vermont's traditional March voting day. It will empower municipalities and school districts to send out ballots in a system similar to the one used during Vermont's first-ever mail-in election in November.
State lawmakers rushed to get the bill to Scott's desk early this legislative session so that local officials had time to alter their plans ahead of important deadlines. Public warnings must be filed at the end of this month, while ballots must be finalized by February 10.
Noting that the coronavirus is far more prevalent in Vermont than it was in November, some lawmakers wanted to mandate mail-in Town Meeting Day voting. But the legislature ultimately decided to leave it up to local officials.
Those that choose to do so will receive financial help from the state: Lawmakers agreed to spend up to $2 million of Vermont's remaining share of federal CARES Act funds to reimburse costs related to mailing out municipal or school budget ballots.
In a statement on Tuesday, Scott acknowledged that Vermonters value their Town Meeting Day traditions. But he urged local officials to take advantage of the law.
"Not only would it accomplish the primary objective of helping keep our friends, families, and neighbors safe," he said, "but it will also increase access to the democratic process, ensuring Vermonters don’t need to choose between their right to vote and risking attending a town meeting gathering during a pandemic.”