Town Meeting Day is a Vermont tradition that I’ve come to appreciate in recent years. On the first Tuesday in March, residents gather in town halls and school gymnasiums around the state to vote on local budgets, debate community issues, and elect town officials. Depending on the issues before voters, meetings can be sleepy and uneventful or lively enough to attract national news — as in 2008, when Brattleboro and Marlboro voted to arrest the United States President and Vice President.
What I love most about Town Meeting Day is the opportunity for locals to debate issues in Vermont’s historic town halls and community centers. The first official Town Meeting was held in Bennington in 1762, several years before Vermont became the 14th state. This 200 year tradition is clearly an important part of Vermont’s history and identity.
Still, the traditional Town Meeting, where issues are voted on from the floor after a public debate, is on the decline as more towns are opting for ballot voting. Attendance at town meeting is down as well. A typical meeting draws only about 20 percent of voters, although small towns tend to have higher turnouts.
Interesting and controversial topics are part of the mix at Town Meeting, and this year is no exception. Residents will vote on gun control in Burlington, the rebuilding of town offices in Middlebury, wind power in Lowell, new gas lines in Shoreham and Cornwall, and decide the outcome of a combative race for mayor in Montpelier.
Town Meeting is an important day in Vermont. It’s also an opportunity to honor a long-standing tradition and feel a deep connection to Vermonters who embraced democracy inside our town halls many generations ago.