This month, we are focused on voting in preparation for the March elections. Not registered to vote? Scroll to the end of the article for voter registration resources!
Vermont as a whole has a unique and special relationship to democracy compared to other states. For starters, the state has the fifth highest voter turnout rate in the country in presidential elections, with 71.8% of Vermonters participating, compared to the national average of 61.4%. Meanwhile, Vermont voters have the second highest voting power in the United States Senate, with one senator per 323,000 people compared to the country’s average of 1 senator per 3.33 million people. That trend persists in the electoral college as well.
The power that residents of this small state have to influence the country as a whole cannot be understated, however local elections are just as, if not more important to influencing the voter’s own quality of life. Yet voter turnout for local elections are minimal compared to that of federal and state elections. In the 2022 Burlington election for city counselors, the average voter turnout across the eight wards was only 29.1%. While it’d be difficult to compare, one can infer that this is still higher than the turnout in the average American city. That being said, there is still an obvious divide between willingness and ability to vote in local versus federal elections that needs to be addressed.
Increasing voter turnout in local elections is not an easy task. Whereas it is easy to get people excited for federal elections, local elections are not nearly as flashy. Especially in a small state like Vermont, there is little news coverage, or even word-of-mouth, for what is being voted for, why it matters, and who even wins. An unfortunate example can be seen as recently as this past year. In the March 2022 Burlington city elections, five questions were asked of the public to help decide public policy. These questions ranged from a simple approval of local school budgets, to the deregulation of sex workers by the city. Without a voter regularly watching city council session broadcasts or attending Neighborhood Planning Association meetings, chances are that most voters learned about these issues at their polling station. Furthermore, it gives rise to the issue of accessibility, with the verbiage used being difficult for many native English speakers, let alone a new American.
For instance, the official results for the March 2022 election simply list question three as “Authorization to issue general obligations bonds for capital projects”. This is too broad to actually make inferences into what the issue tackled. What the voter was actually expected to respond to was a wordy summary that only lists three specific pieces of information: 23 million dollars, fire trucks, and sidewalks. While the City of Burlington makes a solid, appreciated effort to provide residents direct democracy for issues like those proposed in this election cycle, it’s clearly unreasonable for a voter to be expected to respond to a topic like this with no information beyond the 175 words provided on the ballot. This particular question was both too vague for most voters to make an informed decision on, and yet decided the fate for more money than most would ever see in their lives. It’s questions like these that turn some people off to voting all together, and a more concerted effort can be made to inform residents about the pros and cons of this issue before they cast their vote.
The March 2021 Burlington city elections looked vastly different from the four complicated fiscal questions proposed in 2022 (the concise, social policy question that deregulates sex work notwithstanding). The questions proposed to voters in 2021 were more plentiful, focused on mainly social issues, were stated concisely, and most importantly, made large, positive impacts that would directly affect the lives of residents. One that stood out as being pertinent to the BIPOC community was question 5, which limited evictions to “just cause” only – enforcing housing security for renters. While the city of Burlington does not have home ownership rates for all BIPOC identifying residents, data indicates that 98% of Black Burlington-ians are renters. When contrasted with the White renter rate of just 58%, it is easy to see why question 5 was so important to approve, and why a high BIPOC turnout rate for local elections are oftentimes more important and/or dire than other demographics.
Language and information barriers aside, more towns and cities in Vermont can make stronger efforts to encourage voting in local elections. Winooski and Montpelier have decided to push notions of local elections away from the procedures and restrictions present in federal elections and more so onto community engagement via an “All-Resident” voting policy. This policy permits residents of their city to vote in local elections regardless of citizenship. Doing so allows the roughly 10% of non-US Citizen residents of Winooski, and 2% of non-citizen Montpelier residents, to participate and help shape their community without needing to complete the often drawn out and tiring naturalization process.
Lastly it’s important to remind oneself that local elections do not only decide local policies, but also determine who makes all the decisions that don’t appear on the ballot. Only 10 of the 155 representatives in the Vermont State Legislature identify as BIPOC. Electing BIPOC representatives of color can be the first step in mending wounds seen in historically marginalized communities, as they may be better addressed by someone who has walked in those resident’s shoes. If you would be interested in running for office to fill this role, visit the Secretary of State’s website at sos.vermont.gov.
Did you know?
Vermont is one of the top three easiest states to vote in. Why?
You can register on the same day as you vote.
You can vote early by mail or at your city/town clerk’s office in person.
You can register to vote online.
The same online system, My Voter Page, allows you to track the status of your mail ballot. You can also opt-in for text and email updates.
Want to learn more and need to register to vote?
For more information on voting in Vermont elections, visit the Secretary of State’s website at: https://sos.vermont.gov/elections/election-info-resources/
You can also register to vote, check your voter registration status, and review voting history at the Vermont My Voter Page website.
For more information on voting in the upcoming Burlington elections, visit: https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/CT/Elections
About the Author
Dylan Rhymaun moved to Chittenden county in 2017 and now resides in Winooski. He’s a writer and artist who professionally works in Investments for education and disability savings. Dylan has also worked with the VT PoC Network briefly via the VT Health Equity Initiative and looks forward to continuing to support the organization. View more of their work at dylanrhymaun.com.
Banner image credit to Isora Lithgow Creations.
VT PoC Spotlight Feature
Meet your Legislative Representatives and Senators!
This month, we are celebrating voting and the newly elected legislators who have just started the 2023 session! In total, Vermont has 12 BIPOC identified Representatives and Senators pulled from across the state; from Franklin County in the Northwest all the way down to Windham County in the Southeast. There was also a record number of Black and Brown candidates in the last election. While not everyone was elected, it does show that efforts by The Bright Leadership Institute, which trains BIPOC Vermonters to run for- and lead in government roles, and Emerge Vermont, which trains Democratic women to run for- and lead in government roles, are working and do have an impact.
Resources & Updates
VT PoC Monthly Financial Literacy Series (virtual)
VT PoC is hosting a monthly Financial Literacy Series free and open to all BIPOC community members. Each month, we will be exploring a new financial health topic. The next workshop is March 2 starting at 6pm via Zoom. Click here to register for one or more workshop!
Money Matters: BIPOC Financial Liberation and Wellness Series (in-person)
The Root Social Justice Center is hosting two more in-person Money Matters workshop series. FREE and in-person in Brattleboro. Register here.
Celebrate Black Joy across Vermont!
We encourage you to sign up for the 28-day Black History Month series offered by the State of Vermont Office of Racial Equity and Human Rights Commission. You’ll learn about events, art, resources, facts, and literary excerpts that are from or for the Black community. Each week, the group will be raffling off incredible books, tickets and coffee for registrants! Sign up here.
Soul Food Sundays [In-person]
Every second Sunday of the month, join The Roots Social Justice Center for a soul food potluck in a BIPOC affinity space! Bring a dish to share; all ages welcome. Click here for more info.
Join The Black Experience on 2/25 at The Flynn!
That’s right! BX is BACK this February 25 with an evening with Dr. Angela Davis and PHILADANCO! This event is free with registration. Click here to register.
BIPOC Fridays at HULA are back!
HULA is offering free full day passes every Friday in February to the BIPOC community. No need to call ahead or register; just show up! 50 Lakeside Ave, Burlington.
2/26 BIPOC Ski Days [In-person]
Craftsbury Outdoor Center is offering BIPOC Ski Days again! Join in for free cross country ski pass, gear, ski lesson, hot drinks and light snacks, and lots of smiles! Limited spots available. Sunday Feb 26; Register here.
VT Art Council Creative Futures Round 2 now open!
The Art Council’s Creative Futures Grant Program has opened for the second round of applications! The eligibility criteria has changed, including any creative business/non-profit that was set-up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Deadline for Round 2 is Feb. 28. Find all the info at this link.
Want support for your Creative Futures Grant Application?
The Arts Council’s Creative Futures Grant Program opened for Round 2 of applications on Jan 5, with NEW eligibility criteria. Reach out to Krystal using the link below to schedule a time to discuss! Email Krystal here.
SAGE Grant Program Open
The BOSS Network and Sage, the global market leader for technology supports small and medium businesses, have partnered for the inaugural grant of The BOSS Impact Fund. The BOSS Impact Fund supports Black women-led businesses to build scalable, growth-aggressive companies. Applicants must be for-profit company with at least one Black woman-identified founder/owner. Deadline for applications is February 24, 2023. Click here for more information.
Growing Justice Fund Applications are Open
GROWING JUSTICE aims to invest in efforts to solidify the leadership, dignity and power of Tribal, Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Asian and immigrant people to identify and drive solutions that expand the market for good food from locally or regionally owned, and environmentally and economically sustainable farms, ranches, fisheries and food businesses. Awards support community-led efforts to advance the vision and values of GROWING JUSTICE. Applications are due 8PM ET on MARCH 16, 2023. Click here for more information.
802 Opportunity Grant – Free Tuition at CCV
Vermont Student Assistance Corp. announced the 802 Opportunity Grant: free tuition at the Community College of Vermont for Vermonters with a family income of $75,000 or less. Click to learn more.
Launch VT accepting applications through March 3, 2023!
LaunchVT provides business acceleration services to cohorts of eight entrepreneurs. All eight members receive mentorship specific to the needs of their businesses and participate in office hours, peer strategy sessions, focused trainings, pitch prep workshops, and investor events. Each member will leave the accelerator with a refined and polished pitch deck, a Launch Report (executive summary), and extensive connections to local founders, advisors, investors, and service providers. Learn more by clicking here. Interested applicants can schedule a 15-minute private informational meeting.