Vermonters To Vote On Constitutional Change In November

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(Host) Vermonters will vote this fall on Proposal 5 – a constitutional amendment that would change the voting age under certain circumstances.

As VPR’s Ric Cengeri reports, the proposal is generating a lot of debate.

(Cengeri) Katie Lavasseur was just shy of 18 in the spring of 2008. So she couldn’t vote in the presidential primary that year. That’s a fact that she hasn’t forgotten:

(Lavasseur) "I was passionate about politics. I had read up on the candidates. I knew my issues. And when I found out I was unable to vote in the primary elections, I felt disenfranchised. I felt like the system had almost cheated me in a way."

(Cengeri) The UVM junior was then in high school at St. Johnsbury Academy. She served an internship at the Vermont Statehouse that year and pressed for a change.

Now, nearly three years later, Vermonters will vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow 17-year olds to vote in primaries, if they’ll turn 18 by the general election.

State Senator Jeannette White was one of the lawmakers who took up Lavasseur’s cause. White says it makes sense to encourage young adults to vote.

(White) "I believe that a person’s first experience with voting is the one that captures them as a voter. And if we can capture them and make them a voter for life – not just a voter when issues pique their interest, but make them an engaged voter – then we’ve done service to the democracy. Because democracy depends on people being excited and voting."

(Cengeri) Town clerks are among those people who are excited about getting people to vote – but not all clerks support this amendment.

(Kaiser) "There’s just too many questions that remain unanswered at this time."

(Cengeri) Allison Kaiser is president of the Vermont Municipal Clerks’ and Treasurers’ Association, and she’s the town clerk in Stowe. She says there are major problems with how this amendment would be implemented:

(Kaiser) "Is it fair to hand one person a complete set of ballots and then a 17-year-old, ‘I’m sorry. You can vote on this issue and not on that.’? And is there some anonymity that’s lost in the voting process by having different ballots for different sets of people?"

(Cengeri) And other clerks have raised questions about the legality of 17-year olds taking the voter’s oath, and possible confusion among pollworkers.

But for Katie Lavasseur, the point is simple:

(Lavasseur) "You should show these young people you have trust in them and that you’re willing to give them this opportunity."

(Cengeri) If Proposal 5 passes on Election Day, it would be in effect for the March 2012 presidential primary and statewide primaries that summer.

For VPR News, I’m Ric Cengeri.




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