On March 1, 2016, the Town of Charlotte voted 1148-403 for a municipal charter. With the passing of the Town Charter, Charlotte now votes the town budget and “budget related articles” by Australian ballot, but that does not take place on Town Meeting Day.
We discuss all of the articles at Town Meeting, and amendments can be made to those articles, from the floor, by the people in attendance on Town Meeting Day. The end result of the floor discussion of those articles is what is voted on by Australian ballot in April. The charter was advertised as a mechanism to maintain Town Meeting and increase voter participation by using the Australian ballot for the town budget and budget-related articles.
Here are some statistics: Before the Charter was approved, voters on Town Meeting Day voted on town officers and the school budget. From 2014-2016, there were 1056, 1158, and 1768 voters respectively. Once the Charter was passed, in 2017 there were 827 voters on Town Meeting Day and 474 voters for the April budget vote. In 2018, a total of 640 voters went to the polls on Town Meeting Day and 228 voted on the April ballot.
Although it is hard to measure the number of people in attendance at Town Meeting, those numbers have certainly decreased, with 2018 being the smallest number I have seen in 25 years. Based on the one floor vote by paper ballot this March, 128 people were in attendance. In years past, 225 would probably be a typical number.
I believe people are creatures of habit and for town and school business, people vote on the first Tuesday in March, period. They are not thinking that they will vote again, sometime in April, for something that was discussed at town meeting.
I’m sure some people thought everything passed at town meeting, done deal. Where are the 1,148 people who wanted the Charter? Not at the polls in April. There was only one person in attendance for the Selectboard’s informational hearing the night before the April 3 vote, and that was me. That number is down from last year when we had five in attendance.
I wrote a similar article last year after a dismal turnout in April, which was double what it was this year. I said then: It seems as though we could do better, so what do you all need to make this happen?
Just asking the same question, again.
Mary A. Mead
Charlotte Town Clerk