|VERMONT SECRETARY OF STATE - Jim Condos|
Preparing for Town Meeting
Electorate Sets Date Of Annual Meeting. The school board cannot change the date of the annual school meeting on its own motion. Rather, it must be voted by the electorate. The voters must authorize changing the date of an annual school district meeting by voting at an annual or special meeting on an article: "Shall the ______________Town school district hold its annual meeting on ___________." 16 V.S.A.§422.
Town Meeting Can Be Put Off To A New Date If Voters Wish. If voters want to continue the meeting at a later date, it is generally best to make a motion to adjourn to a date and time certain so that the meeting does not need to be warned again. This motion can be used in the event of bad weather, other emergencies, or when the voters need more information that will be available at a later date.
Town and Town School District Moderators Are Separate Offices. The town school district must elect a moderator as the first order of business at its floor meeting or by Australian ballot, if the district has voted to elect all officers by Australian ballot. Although the same person may serve as Town Meeting Moderator and School District Moderator, separate candidacies — and in Australian ballot districts, separate petitions — are required.
Employees May Get Town Meeting Off. Town Meeting Day is designated as a state holiday. This means that state employees have the day off. In addition, for the first time in 2009 employees have the right to take unpaid leave to attend town meeting. This is subject to the essential operation of the business or state or local government and requires the employee to provide seven days notice. 21 V.S.A. § 472b.
The Town Report Must Be Distributed At Least 10 Days Prior To Town Meeting. It is the responsibility of the town board of auditors to prepare an annual town report. The law requires that this report be mailed or distributed to the voters of the town at least ten days prior to town meeting. 24 V.S.A.§1682(a). If a town has voted to eliminate the office of auditor, the findings of the public accountant must be mailed or otherwise distributed by the selectboard at least ten days prior to Town Meeting
Warning Must Be Published If It Is Not Mailed. If the Warning for Town Meeting is not included in the town report and mailed or otherwise distributed to the voters at least 10 days before Town Meeting, then the Warning must be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the municipality at least five days before the meeting. 17 V.S.A.§2641(b).
More Signatures Required For Petition To Bond. A petition to the Selectboard to place an article that includes a bonding proposal on the warning for Town Meeting requires signatures of TEN (10%) of the legal voters, not the usual 5%. 24 V.S.A.§1755(a). The statute also provides very specific information, including the object and purpose of the indebtedness, the estimated cost of the improvements, the amount of bonds to be issued, and the specific form of the question in the Article. 24 V.S.A.§1755 and 1758.
A Town Can Move Town Meeting If It Must. Every year some Town finds that the place it intended to hold town meeting is suddenly unavailable. If Town Meeting absolutely needs to move to a new location, the best option is to post a notice indicating the new location on all entrances to the original Town Meeting location. If the town has enough advanced warning it would be a good idea to notify the local media and post notices of the new location around town. Have the moderator be prepared to begin a bit late to ensure that people who arrive at the original meeting place on time will not miss the beginning of the meeting. After town meeting a special meeting should be held to validate the town meeting. 17 V.S.A. § 2662.
Public Question Articles for Town Meeting must be worded as questions that can be answered with a Yes or No. The Selectboard should reword all articles - even petitioned articles - to fit into a Yes or No format. For example, the proposed article, "Shall the Town elect a road commissioner by ballot or have the selectboard appoint a road foreman?," must be reworded to: "Shall the Town elect a road commissioner by ballot?" This can then be either voted from the floor or placed on a ballot as a Yes or No question. 17 V.S.A. §2681a. This rewording is permissible even with petitioned article because it does not change the effect of the petition. If the reworded article is voted Yes, a road commissioner will be elected in the future. If voted No, the statute provides that the Selectboard appoints. 17 V.S.A.§ 2646(17).
Voters May Elect to Go Back to Paper Ballots for the Election of Officers. When a town or school district has voted to elect officers by Australian ballot the voters may decide to return to paper ballots and voice votes for election of officers. To make the change, an article must be placed on the warning that says: "Shall the Town of XXX discontinue the use of Australian ballot for the election of officers." 17 V.S.A. §2680(b). The article is a public question, so that the vote would be by voice vote unless the town had previously voted to handle all public questions by Australian ballot. In order to change the method of voting for the upcoming Annual Town Meeting, this article must be voted at a special meeting before Town Meeting. In the alternative, this article can be voted at Town Meeting this year with the change in voting method to take place at the 2003 Town Meeting.
Petitions to Place Items On Ballot Must Be Submitted Early. Vermont law requires the selectboard to place petitioned articles on the ballot when the petition, containing signatures of 5% of the voters and has been received by the Selectboard or the Schoolboard at least 40 days prior to Town Meeting. 17 V.S.A.§2642(a).
Selectboard May Reject Petitions If Outside Authority of the Voter. The selectboard does not have to place every petitioned article on the warning – only those that involve issues that Vermont law permits the voters or electorate to decide. Proposed articles that involve action that is specifically delegated to the selectboard, schoolboard or other local board or elected official may be rejected. It is in the board’s discretion to put "advisory" articles on the warning, or to reject such articles. It is wise to consider whether the board will follow the "advice" of the voters on an advisory article, before adding it to the warning. It can be very frustrating to voters to vote on an issue at town meeting and then find that the board is not going to follow the advice of the vote.
Voting For Town Officers
Only Legal Voters Can Be Elected To Town Office. To be eligible for election as a school board member, a person must be a legal voter in the school district. 16 V.S.A. § 558. Likewise, a town shall choose from among its legally qualified voters for selectboard, town clerk, town treasurer, and a number of other town offices. 17 V.S.A. § 2646. So long as the person is on the checklist by the day of election he or she is eligible for election. The town clerk must add the names of all eligible persons who have properly completed and submitted applications to the checklist before noon on the second Monday before the election.
Certain Officers Are Elected By Paper Ballot. In towns that have not adopted the Australian ballot system of voting for local offices, Vermont law requires the use of paper ballots during the town meeting for election of officers to the selectboard, listers, auditor, road commissioner, and water commissioners. 17 V.S.A. §2646.
Majority Vote Is Required To Elect Officials At Floor Meeting. Vermont law requires local officials to receive a majority of all votes cast in order to be elected during an open town meeting. 17 V.S.A. §2660. Candidates who receive a plurality of votes will be elected in towns that use the Australian ballot to vote for officers. In a floor vote, if no candidate receives the majority in the first paper ballot, then another vote must be taken. If no person has obtained a majority by the end of the third vote, then the moderator shall announce that the person who received the least votes in the last vote shall no longer be a candidate, and continue voting in like fashion until a candidate receives a majority.
There is no reconsideration of election of officers. While 17 V.S.A. §2661 provides a method for reconsidering public questions, and budgets, the election of officers cannot be reconsidered by filing a petition with the legislative body. The only way to challenge or contest an election of an officer is by filing a petition with the appropriate Superior Court. (17 V.S.A. §2603) The statute sets out that you must allege either errors sufficient to change the outcome of the election, fraud in the process sufficient to change the result, or you must establish another reason that the election is not valid.
Political Party Designation For Local Office Rare – But Possible. Few communities include political party designations for local offices. In most cases it is done because the Municipal Charter provides for such listing. However, the law permits political party designations if the town has voted to provide for such listings, or in the absence of such a vote, if the legislative body votes to permit political party designations.
Town Officers Take Office At Town Meeting. Newly elected town officers take office on town meeting day. Some officials must take an oath before they officially take office. This can be done by the clerk at town meeting, or at any time thereafter. 17 V.S.A. § 2646. An official who is required to take an oath of office (by either swearing or affirming) and who refuses to do so may not take office, thereby creating a vacancy. (See March Opinions for list of officials requiring oath.)
Union School Officers (Clerk, Treasure, Auditors, Etc.) Take Office On July 1st Except For Moderator. According to law, “union district officers elected at an annual meeting shall enter upon their duties on July 1 following their election and shall serve a term of one year or until their successors are elected and qualified, except that if the voters at an annual meeting so vote, moderators elected at an annual meeting shall assume office upon election and shall serve for a term of one year or until their successors are elected and qualified.” The law also provides that school directors elected at an annual meeting shall assume office upon election and shall serve a term of three years or until their successors are elected and qualified. 16 V.S.A. § 706k.
Office remains vacant if no nominees. At a Town Meeting in a town election, town officers, from the floor if no one is nominated, the office remains vacant and the selectboard must appoint. The Selectboard or Moderator cannot “force” the town meeting to keep nominating until someone accept the nomination by stating that the next article will not be considered until the election is complete. If there are no nominations for an office, the Selectboard appoints someone to serve until the next election. If at a later date other interest arises in the office, 5% of the legal voters can always petition for a special election.
Some Local Officials Do Not Have To be Residents. In most cases, in order to be elected or appointed to serve in local office you must be a voter in that municipality. However, the law does not require assistant treasurers or assistant clerks to be residents of the communities where they serve.. In addition, the town clerk or treasurer can serve as clerk or treasurer of a village or fire district even if they are not a resident of that municipality. A town tax collector can serve as an incorporated school district collector even if not a resident of the district. There is also no residency requirement for appointment to town planning and zoning boards. However, for the planning commission, at least a majority of the members must be residents of the town.
Conducting the Meeting
Moderator Should Review Rules At The Start of Town Meeting. At the beginning of town meeting, it is a best practice for the moderator to review the basics of Robert's Rules and the procedures that will be used in the meeting. This helps voters to be able to participate fully in the meeting. It is especially important for the moderator to remind the voters that any person present can rise to challenge the ruling of the moderator on any procedural issue, and have the procedural issue decided by the voters present.
Moderators Should Not Comment On Legality Of Article. It is best practice for moderators at the annual meeting to refrain from speaking to the legality of an article or to give an opinion about the legal effect of taking action on or passing over an article. Even a well-intentioned comment about the legality or impact of an article could be misunderstood as showing partiality for or against an article. If there is truly no one else in the room that can answer a question, and the moderator feels compelled to enter the discussion, the moderator should call for a moderator pro tem to take over, and step down while he or she participates in the debate.
Non-voters May Only Speak At Town Meeting With Permission of the Assembly. Only legal voters can speak at town meeting unless there has been a motion to suspend the rules and permit non-voters to address the group and the motion has passed by 2/3 of the voters. It is a good practice when making such a motion to include some parameters in the motion, such as non-voters may speak to an issue only once, for a time not to exceed five minutes, etc.
Upon The Request Of Seven Voters, Paper Ballots Are Used For Non-Election Articles. If at least seven voters support a request that paper ballots be used for voting during a special or annual meeting, then paper ballots must be distributed and used. 17 V.S.A. §2658. This request must be made separately for each article. Generally one person makes the motion to call for paper ballots and the moderator looks to see whether there are six people who would “second” the motion.
Motion To Reconsider Must Be Made Before Consideration Of Next Article. If a voter wishes to move for reconsideration of an article during Town Meeting, the voter must make the motion BEFORE consideration of the next article on the warning. 17 V.S.A.§2661(a). After the motion has been made to begin consideration of the next article, it is too late to seek reconsideration during the meeting.
Moderator May Reject Amendment If Not Germane. The moderator can only allow amendments to articles that are reasonably related to the article as warned. The purpose of the town meeting warning is to enable voters to know what issues are going to be decided. Because no decisions can be made on issues that were not warned, it would not be a valid act of the town to amend an article so that it is no longer relevant or germane to the original Article. See Kaeser v. Town of Starksboro, 116 Vt 251 (1950)
Voters May Challenge Ruling of Moderator. During a traditional floor voting town meeting, any voter can challenge any ruling on points of order by the moderator by requesting that the issue be put to the vote of the assembled voters. Many wise moderators will encourage voters to challenge a ruling when they are in doubt by prefacing the ruling such as "The chair is doubtful, but will rule that …." This encourages a voter to rise to challenge. Robert's Rules provides that any voter can rise to ask that the ruling be voted upon by the voters present. It is difficult for any moderator to know every rule and anticipate every type of motion that may be presented. Robert's Rules thus allows the majority of those voters present to decide what is fair and just under the circumstances.
Voters May Limit Debate By 2/3 Vote. In order to limit debate on a motion a vote of two-thirds is required. A motion to limit debate takes precedence over all debatable motions and can be applied to any or all pending debatable motions. Of course, it is out of order when another voter has the floor. The motion itself must be seconded and is not debatable. Simply moving the previous question can also close debate. This also requires a two-thirds vote.
Votes requiring two-thirds instead of a majority at Town Meeting. It’s a fairly short list: Tax stabilization agreements relating to commercial or industrial property (24 V.S.A. §2741(b)); Rural town approval of a zoning bylaw or amendment if 5% of the voters have filed a written protest or petition asking for 2/3 vote at least 15 days prior to the vote (24 V.S.A. §4404 (e)); and when Robert’s rules requires 2/3 for procedural motions such as motions to suspend the rules, to rearrange articles, to cease or limit debate; to adopt special rules of order; to allow a nonresident to speak after a voter has objected, to close nominations; and to postpone to a time certain (17 V.S.A. §2658).
Articles that are voted to be either “passed over” or “postponed indefinitely” cannot be raised at a special or annual meeting without a full warning of a new article. Likewise if an article is “tabled” (it could be removed from the table during that meeting) but it cannot be considered at a subsequent meeting without being warned as an article. Voters rely on the warning to know what will be discussed.
Australian Ballot Voting
Absentee Ballots Must Be Available 20 Days Before Town Meeting. Towns that hold Australian Ballot voting must make Early and Absentee ballots available at least twenty days prior to town meeting. 17 V.S.A. § 2681a.
A Town Vote To Move to Australian Ballot Applies To The Following Meeting. If a town wishes to change the way it elects its officers, or votes its budgets, or public questions, it must place an article on the warning as directed in 17 V.S.A. § 2680. If the article to change to Australian ballot passes, the town or district will begin using the Australian ballot at its next special or annual meeting for officers or public questions, and at the next annual meeting for budgets.
Town Clerk Can Reword Australian Ballot Article To Make Yes/No. In Towns voting by Australian ballot, if the public question has not been worded as a yes/ no question by the Selectboard, the Town Clerk must reword the articles for the ballot. This is because the law requires Australian ballot questions to be put to the voters as yes/no questions. 17 V.S.A. §2681a(a). The Town Clerk cannot make any changes that would alter the meaning of the article or make discretionary changes to an article to "improve the vocabulary" of the article.
Australian Ballot Is Not A Paper Ballot. People often confuse the terms "paper" and "Australian ballot." The two are different. A paper ballot is a written ballot vote used at a traditional school district or town meeting. An Australian ballot vote refers to the practice of voting at designated polling places during designated polling hours (usually, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.) with printed ballots that are available twenty days prior to the school district or town meeting for absentee voting.
After the Meeting
Town Clerk Is Responsible for Preparation of Town Meeting Minutes. Vermont law makes the town clerk responsible for taking minutes at the annual meeting. When the Town Clerk is not seeking re-election, it is still his or her responsibility to make a record of the town meeting. 24 V.S.A.§1152.
Two Officials Must Approve Town Meeting Minutes. The record or minutes of the annual town meeting must be approved and attested to by any two of the following: moderator, selectboard or justices of the peace. The clerk must request this approval within seven days after each town meeting and his or her request must be given prompt consideration. 24 V.S.A.§1152.
School Meeting Minutes Must Be Taken And Approved. Although the law is not explicit, it is the opinion of this office that minutes of the annual school meeting must be treated like the annual town meeting minutes. The Clerk of the School District is responsible for taking the minutes, and these minutes must be approved within seven days after the meeting by two individuals - the moderator, a member of the school board and/or a justice of the peace.
Articles Can Be Reconsidered After The Meeting By Petition. A petition signed by five percent of the legal voters of the town or school district can be submitted to request reconsideration of an article within 30 days following the town or school meeting. 17 V.S.A.§ 2661(b). If a proper petition is submitted in a timely manner, the legislative body (selectboard or school board) must schedule and warn a special meeting to be held not later than 60 days after receipt of the petition to vote on the requested article.
Request for reconsideration must be submitted within thirty days of meeting. A petition signed by five percent of the legal voters of the town or school district can be submitted to request reconsideration of an article within 30 days following the town or school meeting. 17 V.S.A.§ 2661(b). If a proper petition is submitted in a timely manner, the legislative body (selectboard or school board) must schedule and warn a special meeting to be held not later than 60 days after receipt of the petition to vote on the requested article. It is wise to avoid committing to any contract until the 30 days for reconsideration has passed.
Absentee ballots for reconsideration should not require separate request. Although the law does not speak directly to whether a person who has requested an absentee ballot for town meeting votes by Australian ballot, must make a separate request for an absentee ballot for reconsideration, we suggest that fairness dictates that you send absentee ballots for the reconsideration to all voters who had requested absentee ballots for Town Meeting. Reconsideration is really an extension of town meeting. It is likely that a court would find that the obligation to send a ballot to a voter would continue until the voting on the issue is complete.
Need help with a web site technical issue?
Questions regarding this page's content?
Please Contact us.