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Regional Report: Calais Opts To Keep Floor Vote

Calais voters on Saturday again rejected a move to Australian ballot for funding requests from Montpelier’s Kellogg-Hubbard Library at a well-attended special town meeting where debate focused on the merits of the town’s voting practices.

More than 230 residents showed up to weigh in on the issue that was rejected at the annual Town Meeting Day in March. They voted 131-93 Saturday, by paper ballot, to reject changing the town’s voting structure.
The idea of moving to Australian ballot was defeated three times on Town Meeting Day. One article in March also targeted the library, while a second sought the use of Australian ballot to decide budgets and all other monetary requests. A third would have further expanded the list to include all public questions — even those with no dollar signs attached.

After those defeats, two new petitions were filed: one with the Select Board that was defeated Saturday and another with the School Board, which seeks to decide the annual school budget by Australian ballot. The School Board has planned an informational meeting next month but has not set a date for a vote on the matter.

On Saturday several speakers, including dairy farmer Doug Lilley, who started a petition that led to the special meeting, spoke passionately about the issue. Arguments were made on both sides before an impatient resident called for an immediate vote.

Lilley said the reason he is pushing for a switch to the Australian ballot, particularly for funding issues, is to provide all residents with a chance to vote — even those who may not be able to attend the annual Town Meeting Day gathering.

“Some people in town are trying to make it a money issue,” he said. “It’s not a money issue today. It’s a right to vote by Australian ballot. Not just the lucky people, the working man. The working man has to work five days a week, seven days.”

Lilley said Secretary of State Jim Condos’ office prepared a petition for him that he used to gather 119 signatures, far more than the 66 required. He said he was upset after voters rejected similar measures three times in March.

“We’re going to keep coming back so people can vote. This is America. People need to vote,” Lilley said. “I want to see what the people look like that don’t want to give the people the right to vote.”

Lilley urged voters to “take this town back.”

Others, including Craig Line, a library trustee, disagreed with Lilley. Line said he was concerned with the “take-back attitude growing in our town.”

“I hope that’s not why we’re here, that it’s not an us-versus-them thing developing,” he said.
Line said Lilley first presented his petitions — he also has submitted a similar request to the School Board to change the voting structure — after the 30-day window laid out in state law. He said the request is exactly the same one that voters already rejected.

“It’s worded exactly the same as it was at town meeting,” Line said. “It’s the same issue, whether you claim to be starting over, it is the same issue. We did discuss it, we did vote on it.”

Moving to the Australian ballot would stifle discussion that takes place at town meetings, he said.
“The issue is really about Australian ballot. I just don’t think it’s a good way to make decisions for our town,” Line said. “That is the end of town meeting.”

Resident Leslie Finch sided with Lilley, saying the current system disenfranchises voters who cannot attend town meetings. She said the Australian ballot system allows for early and absentee voting.

“If we vote down the article we will be taking that right away from people who have to work, from young people who might be away at college … from service people who might be out-of-town, out-of-state, out-of-country,” she said.

“Are we going to support our citizens’ right to vote or are we going to take it away?” Finch said.“That’s wrong.”

Four votes is not enough to satisfy Lilley, who said he plans to immediately begin working on another petition to force another vote.

“I’m coming back tomorrow. I’m starting tomorrow,” he said. “I will be knocking on their doors tomorrow. I’m not quitting until we get it right and we haven’t got it right.”

Neal is a a reporter for the Vermont Press Bureau. He also files reports for Vermont Public Radio.
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