Ludlow citizens to vote on “how to vote” at Town Meeting

LUDLOW, Vt. – A recent petition calling for all public questions to be decided by Australian ballot was submitted to the Ludlow Town Office and will put the question of “how to vote” to Ludlow voters in Article 11 at this year’s Town Meeting.

The article reads: “Shall the voters of the Town of Ludlow vote all public questions by Australian Ballot?”

The article was submitted Jan. 7, 2020 by Ludlow residents Linda and Dean Alexander and approved by the Town Clerk. The petition needed 78 verified signatures and had 87.

Discussion of voting methods for different town issues came up during the process to decide on the purchase of the Black River High School building several months ago. During that process, there was some confusion over how the issue would be decided. A special meeting and floor vote was ultimately scheduled. The issue, however, only required the Selectboard’s approval, a fact that was discovered by the board just before the meeting. A vote was taken and the public did support the board’s decision to purchase the building, although the vote itself was not binding.

Traditionally, Ludlow has voted on the town budget as a town wide floor vote. That procedure for a floor vote for town issues, except for electing officers, was established in 1989 when a petition to move to Australian ballot was defeated at Town Meeting. The public comments from the 1989 Town Meeting cited that citizens did not want the traditional Town Meeting structure to go away, according to Municipal Manager Scott Murphy.

If this new article is approved, all town business, with the exception of electing officers, would be decided by Australian ballot, a method of voting privately on paper.

According to Murphy, the procedure would require an informational meeting be held within 10 days preceding a vote. Thereafter, all public votes including the annual Town Meeting and any special meetings and votes would be done this way.

Selectboard Chairman Bruce Schmidt, speaking at the February Selectboard meeting, said that moving to an Australian balloting method would essentially take away their Town Meeting, reducing the process to holding an informational meeting. “There would be no way to change anything,” he said.

Ludlow Town Office Attorney Steve Ankuda commented during the Selectboard meeting that voting on the floor is a way to get people to attend Town Meeting but not necessarily a good way to get an idea of what townspeople are really thinking.

The Selectboard discussed looking into adopting a town charter that could determine voting methods – something that other area towns have done. Schmidt was unclear of what the positives and negatives were on that option.

According to Murphy, they are just beginning to look at the possibility of a town charter and would be bringing information about the process to the Selectboard at an upcoming meeting. “If a town charter were adopted, the charter process includes approval by the voters. So by approving the charter, they would have approved the method of voting,” he said.

Ludlow annual Town Meeting is Monday, March 2 at 7 p.m. Voting is open Tuesday March 3 by Australian ballot to elect town officers and decide on the School Board budget.

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