NO Merger Wins, Re-Vote Scheduled

Irene Wrenner

April 2, 2021

About a week after the merger question failed at the polls, a citizen petition requested a do-over of that March 2nd vote.

This reconsideration petition was signed by 825 voters and submitted to the Town Clerk on March 11th.

This is familiar territory for Essex.     

A similar petition for a merger re-vote, with more than 1,624 signatures was submitted after the November 2006 election. Those who carried that petition cited two reasons for a re-vote:​

Town Clerk Susan McNamara-Hill accepts a petition for a re-vote, 2021

1) poor communication — the Town only mailed a single sheet of paper describing the merger plan to households that year. (In contrast, this year the Town spent $7,174 to print and mail a 48-page booklet.)

2) obscurity — 440 people filled out the front of their November ballot and missed the merger question on the reverse side.

Town Clerk Cheryl Moomey accepts   a petition for a re-vote, 2006

To leave a ballot question blank is known as an undervote.

This year’s ballot had just one side, and only 27 people undervoted on the merger question.

Petition carriers suggested those 27 undervotes warranted the reconsideration. Incidentally, other ballot questions had substantially more undervotes.

For example, the Town Budget question, saw 265 undervotes, ten times as many as the merger question. Yet, no one has requested a reconsideration of that $15.9 million question.

The 2007 merger re-vote was held 48 days after its petition was submitted, following the statute that requires a vote happen at least 47 days after a petition is submitted. April’s re-vote is a mere 33 days after.

Several members of the public asked the Selectboard to heed the Vermont statutes that define the contents and timing of election warnings (Chapter 17, Sections 2641 and 2642) .

 

While they understood the upcoming school and Village election was a convenient date to schedule a re-vote, April 13th does not meet the “not less than 47 days before” requirement in the latter section. 

Initially, the Town Attorney dismissed their concerns on March 11th, the Selectboard meeting at which the re-vote date was warned. However, he acknowledged that section of law applies to this election warning.

Petition proponents offered another reason for submitting the 2021 petition: some voters did not understand why they were voting on a (town) merger plan in March after they had already voted on a (village) merger plan in November. The April 13th vote will be the third time Village residents will be voting on merger in one form or another.

The re-vote on January 23rd, 2007 featured only a merger question. The April 2021 ballot includes school votes in both districts, plus Village Trustees, policy and budget questions.

In addition, Village voters will decide YES or NO on Article 6, a non-binding and conditional question aiming to force the Trustees to create a separation charter:

“...Shall the EJ Board of Trustees be advised to draft a charter to create the independent City of Essex Junction, for consideration by the Village of EJ voters no later than Nov. 2021, should efforts seeking a vote for reconsideration on the issue of merger fail…”