Town Meeting Day

Today, the first Tuesday in March, is the annual Town Meeting Day throughout Vermont. If you’re from New England, this is nothing new to you. If you’re from elsewhere, it might sound a bit like something out of Gilmore Girls. However, it’s a bit more serious than that; town residents meet to hear and vote upon town financial matters and other issues for the year. Town meeting dates back to 1762 in Vermont (the first one was held in Bennington). The Vermont Secretary of State produced a Citizen’s Guide to Town Meeting Day. Read about the specifics of voting and procedures here. (The middle school version is more fun to share.)

Town Meeting Day is a state holiday, which allows many people the time to attend. Some towns have the meeting the weekend prior or at night, allowing for greater participation. Many towns now run the meeting by “Australian ballot” as opposed to “floor meeting.” The difference? Australian ballot allows for voting all day, whereas floor meeting allows only for voting at the meeting after discussion of issues. This can take all day; hence, preference for Australian ballot.

Town halls, as buildings, are an important architectural style across Vermont. Historic town halls, although they vary in construction, massing and cladding, they are generally easy to spot in town. A “Town Hall in Vermont” Multiple Property Document Form was completed in 1991 by Liz Pritchett; it is available at the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation. Town halls have served as multipurpose spaces for residents; sometimes schools or churches. Today the historic town halls aren’t always the current town hall (see Middlebury’s rehabilitation from town hall to theater), since changing times often requires changing spaces. Here are four of Vermont’s town halls.

Bethel Town Hall, 1911. Image via UVM Landscape Change. Click for source.

Bristol Town Hall. Image via Henry Sheldon Museum & UVM Landscape Change. Click for source.

Middlebury Town Hall, which is now the Middlebury Town Hall Theater. Image via UVM Landscape Change. Click for source.

Addison Town Hall, 2010.

Today will be my first Vermont town meeting; I’m excited. From what I hear, there are some village v. town issues that may be present during the meeting. Sounds like I’ll need a cup of coffee. Once I know more about town meetings in Vermont, I’ll report back on my experiences and the tradition.  Vermont Public Radio provides up to date town meeting coverage and tweets (no, I’m not kidding – this is a big deal!)

Do you live in a state with town meetings? What do you think of the tradition?

p.s. Rather than its usual Tuesday slot, Preservation Photos returns tomorrow.

p.p.s. Today is also the presidential primary election in Vermont. Vote!