Republican Gov. Phil Scott on Friday signed into law an act — S.172 — authorizing alternative procedures for town meeting gatherings this year.

The bill, which handily cleared the House and Senate this week, is an attempt to provide municipalities options for holding local elections and voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, local and state officials are hoping the measures will help increase voter turnout.

With his signature, the governor also sent a scolding to lawmakers.

“Unfortunately, the Legislature has missed another opportunity to expand voter access further by expanding automatic mailing of ballots beyond general elections (Act 60) to include school budget votes, local elections and primary elections. Last year after signing Act 60 into law, I asked the Legislature to take this up when they returned in January, and if passed could be a model for the country,” Scott stated in his letter to lawmakers. “General elections already have the highest voter turnout. What we need is increased voter participation for elections like those on Town Meeting Day or school budget votes, which experience a fraction of the turnout of general elections.”

He asked lawmakers "to being work with the Secretary of State Jim Condos to set a timeline and process to achieve the universal, proactive mailing of ballots to registered voters for all elections in Vermont."

Towns and cities around the state, most setting budgets and warnings in anticipation of the March 1 Town Meeting Day, had been anticipating the measures, and the governor's signature.

Now, after the long holiday weekend, planning can begin in earnest.

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