ballot envelope

Both Essex Town and Essex Junction are asking voters if they want to switch to Australian ballot for voting on the municipal budget.

This has led some residents to ask:

What is an Australian ballot?

Australian ballots are pre-printed ahead of the election. Vermont uses the term to differentiate them from paper ballots sometimes cast during the annual town meeting.

What is the current process?

Essex has a long-standing tradition of “voting from the floor” for its budget during the spring’s Town Meeting Day. That means people need to show up, recently at Essex High School, and use their voice to express their decision about whether or not the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year should be adopted. The village does the same for its municipal budget.

If poll officials cannot confidently tell which way the vote went, or by request of the public, they will then ask people in favor of the question to stand up to be physically counted; the same is then done for those who are opposed. A paper ballot can also be used if those present for the meeting so choose. Meeting attendees will line up to write 'yes' or 'no' on pieces of paper that are then hand counted.

This year, the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office allowed municipalities to use Australian ballot, even if their charter states that certain items must be voted on from the floor, because of safety concerns and the governor’s restriction on the size of gatherings. The town’s budget was approved during Town Meeting Day in its traditional manner, since it happened before the State of Emergency, but the village needed to utilize Australian ballots as its Annual Meeting was originally scheduled for April.

What are the advantages of an Australian ballot?

With an Australian ballot, residents don't have to be present at the actual meeting to vote. Voters will instead have a full day to show up at the polls and complete their ballot, as they do for a General Election. They will be able to cast an absentee or early ballot.

Advocates for using Australian ballot typically point out that many people have work or family obligations which can make attending a physical meeting a challenge. When the village voted by Australian ballot this year, the number of votes cast increased 324 percent. However, those ballots were also mailed directly to all registered voters in Essex Junction.

Are there downsides to Australian ballot voting?

Advocates of traditional town meeting often cite the ability of voters to ask questions of officials before voting, the ability of voters to make a motion from the floor to change the budget, and the sense of community they say is fostered by the traditional town meeting.

Leading up to the election, the Reporter will try to help answer questions that voters may have about what’s on their respective ballots. If you have a question, email it to news@essexreporter.com.

Upcoming questions we’ll be answering:

  • Why are only Essex Junction residents voting on merger?
  • What happens if Essex Junction approves merger when the town hasn't yet voted?
  • What happens to tax rates in the town and village under the proposed charter?
  • Why is there a special sidewalk district in the merger proposal?
  • What would happen to the library, recreation department, fire department and other departments both the town and village have?
  • What will the new selectboard look like in the village charter proposal?

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