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With veto overrides, lawmakers expand voter eligibility in Brattleboro, Burlington

 A woman holds a wooden gavel in her right hand
Lia Chien
Vermont Public
Vermont House Speaker Jill Krowinski holds the gavel during a veto session of the House of Representatives on June 20, 2023.

Lawmakers voted Tuesday to override Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of charter changes related to voting in two Vermont communities.

Voters in Brattleboro and Burlington voted to expand voting eligibility in their borders — with Brattleboro seeking to lower the voting age in town elections and Burlington seeking to allow residents who are not citizens to vote in its municipal elections.

Youth voting in Brattleboro

Effective immediately, the charter change allows Brattleboro residents aged 16 to and 17 to vote in certain town elections, including Town Meeting Day.

The change also allows people 16 and older to run for and be elected to a town office, such as selectboard.

However, voters under 18 would not be allowed to vote in state or national elections, nor would they be allowed to vote in school board elections.

Brattleboro voters approved the charter change in 2019. Gov. Scott vetoed it last year, and lawmakers failed to override his veto.

This year, Scott vetoedthe change again, saying the bill blurs the definition of adulthood in Vermont.

 A woman stands at a microphone and reads a statement from a piece of paper
Lia Chien
Vermont Public
House Minority Leader Patricia McCoy, a Republican from Poultney, speaks during a veto session of the Vermont Legislature on June 20, 2023.

House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy of Poultney voted to sustain the governor’s veto.

“Reducing the age to vote to 16, in light of the fact this body raised the age to 21 for a person to be charged as a juvenile, flies in the face of all logic,” McCoy said Tuesday on the House floor. “If the brain is not fully developed to understand and make the correct decisions relative to a crime, then the brain is not fully developed at 16 to be allowed to vote on decisions affecting their community.”

Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, a Democrat from Brattleboro, pointed out that the charter change had strong support in her district.

 A woman in a white blazer stands at a microphone and reads from a phone
Lia Chien
Vermont Public
Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, a Democrat from Brattleboro, speaks during discussions at the House of Representatives on June 20, 2023.

On Town Meeting Day in 2019, Brattleboro voters voted 908 to 400 in favor of lowering the voting age.

“I vote ‘yes’ today, to stand behind the will of Brattleboro voters and on behalf of young people, who deserve an opportunity to engage deeply in the democratic process as they come of age,” Kornheiser said

Noncitizen voting in Burlington

Burlington voters gave their approval to a resolution on Town Meeting Day this year that also expands voting eligibility in the city.

The charter change expands the definition of a voter to include “any noncitizen who resides on a permanent or indefinite basis in compliance with federal immigration laws.”

Like the Brattleboro charter change, Burlington’s does not apply to statewide or federal elections.

Read more about the charter change here.

Members of the House voted 111 to 36 to override Scott’s veto.

Rep. Barbara Rachelson, a Democrat from Burlington, called the charter change “an important expansion of our city’s voting rights.”

No debate in the Senate

Both charter changes sailed through the Senate, with no debate.

Lawmakers in that chamber voted 20 to 10 to override Gov. Scott’s veto of youth voting in Brattleboro, and 21 to 9 to override the governor’s veto of the charter change to allow noncitizen voting in Burlington.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Abagael Giles@AbagaelGiles.

Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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