Constitutional Amendment To Be Voted On In November

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(Host) Besides picking a governor and a host of other elected officials this November, Vermont voters will also be asked to amend the state’s Constitution.

The amendment would allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they turn 18 by Election Day.

But town clerks are raising questions about the little-known amendment. And the Republican candidate for secretary of state says the proposal is a bad idea, and should go back to the Legislature for more work.  

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Amending the Vermont Constitution is a multi-year process requiring votes by two separately elected legislatures and public approval at the polls.

The amendment that would allow 17-year-olds to vote is at the final stage and is up for a public vote in November. Yet it’s generated little discussion or debate.   

(Gibbs) "I frankly don’t think it’s significant enough to justify amending our state’s most important governing document."

(Dillon) Jason Gibbs is the Republican candidate for secretary of state. He says the Legislature has done a poor job in explaining to voters why the constitution should be changed.

(Gibbs) "This is the last stop in the process. The people of Vermont are going to be asked to say, ‘Yea,’ or, ‘Nay.’ And I don’t think that we’ve adequately lived up to the expectation – in the Constitution – for a significant discussion about amendments of this type."

(Dillon) The amendment was designed to boost voter interest by allowing 17-year-olds to cast a ballot in primaries if they turn 18 by the general election. Eighteen other states have similar provisions. Vermont lawmakers took up the idea at the suggestion of several high school students.

But town clerks warn the amendment could pose administration problems. Alison Kaiser is town clerk in Stowe and heads the statewide association of municipal and town clerks.

(Kaiser) "There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered before the town clerks can say one way or another if we can definitely manage this or not."

(Dillon) One question has to do with which primary a 17-year-old could vote in. Vermont’s statewide primary is held in August, but the presidential primary is held in March, on Town Meeting Day. If the amendment applies to the March primary, Kaiser asks if that means 17-year-olds should also be allowed to vote at Town Meeting?

And Kaiser points out another inconsistency between the amendment and current law. The amendment allows someone to vote before they turn 18. But before you vote you must take the Voter’s Oath. And Kaiser says you can’t legally take an oath unless you’re 18 or over.

(Kaiser) "So that issue has not been resolved… Some of these logistical things haven’t been thought all the way through."

(Dillon) Jim Condos is the Democratic candidate for secretary of state. He supports the idea of allowing more people to vote in the primaries. And he says the Legislature can work out the procedural kinks.

(Condos) "The foundation of our democracy begins with our voting. This is about helping to educate our youth, and getting them involved at an early age."

(Dillon) Condos says as secretary of state he would work to implement the new voting law. He says the secretary of state’s office plans to publish newspaper notices next week to educate voters about the amendment.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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