I saw the headline in your April 5 article regarding turnout for the April 3 town budget vote and voter participation.
As a member of the Town Meeting Solutions Committee, our purpose in drafting the charter was to increase voter participation on the town budget while maintaining Town Meeting. As Tuesday’s vote reflects, there was a 78 percent increase in voter participation on Tuesday over those that voted on the floor on Town Meeting Day. This is consistent with last year’s result as well: In 2018, there were 3,102 registered voters in Charlotte. The town meeting budget debate and floor vote had 128 voters, and the Australian ballot vote in April yielded 228 voters, an increase from 4.1 percent to 7.3 percent of registered voters. The 2017 vote, out of a total of 3,226 registered voters, had 163 on the floor vote and 475 participating in the April vote. That changed from 5 percent of registered voters to 14.7 percent.
In comparison, town meeting voters for the previous years ranged from 5 to 8 percent, while school budget votes yielded voter participation in the 28 percent to 40 percent range.
Though a voting date weeks after Town Meeting is unique, there was much research and discussion over multiple years behind the solution. The concept of holding a Town Meeting discussion on the budget in January, followed by a vote via Australian ballot on the traditional day in March, was discussed with the Selectboard. I believe most thought keeping all the Australian ballot voting on the same day would ensure the highest turnout.
While ideal, this option was tabled due to timing. In order to hold a meeting on the budget in January, it would need to be warned in December, meaning the budget would have to be completed much earlier than it is now. If I’m recalling the discussion correctly, the Selectboard did not think they could pull together the budget in that timeline as it would require them to begin budgeting for the next year when the current year would have just gotten started.
The provision in our Town charter allowing the town budget to be voted using the current mechanism is set to expire in 2020, reverting the vote back to a floor vote on Town Meeting Day. The way I see it, the Town has three options:
1. Let the charter sunset, disenfranchising those who have been afforded the opportunity to vote on the Town Budget via Australian ballot.
2. Change all voting to Australian ballot on Town Meeting Day, disenfranchising those who value Town Meetin.
3. Keep working to make the charter effective.
The town charter was conceived and implemented to increase voter turnout, and as such, I believe it is doing its job.