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Marshfield to Hold Sunday In-person Voting

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photo courtesy Town of Marshfield
Marshfield’s community center is the site of the town’s annual town meeting voting on Sunday.

MARSHFIELD – In the wake of recent slips in voter turnout, Marshfield decided last year to move its annual in-person meeting to Sunday, March 3, two days before Town Meeting Day. And with that date fast approaching, locals and town officials alike wonder whether it will help.

Town Meeting Day occurs annually on the first Tuesday in March. Most towns have their annual meetings scheduled simultaneously with the state holiday. However, before the COVID-19 pandemic, participation rates in Marshfield were dropping — and Richard Baker, the Marshfield selectboard chair, blames the weekday scheduling.

“It’s not a democratic process if people can’t make it,” he said, adding after, “Our goal is to increase participation and to make it inclusive.”

When COVID-19 hit, many municipalities, including Marshfield, saw benefits to options such as mail-in ballots and remote viewing, and many are planning to keep such measures, according to an article by VTDigger. Marshfield, however, will stick with traditional floor voting but it’ll shift to the weekend.

Select board members discussed changing the date in meetings last January, and voters approved the change on last year’s ballot. The majority of people thought Sunday was the best day, Baker said.

In Marshfield, those who don’t attend Town Meeting Day won’t get to vote. By rearranging the schedule to the weekend, local leaders figured people would have a choice of whether to participate, Baker said.

Many Marshfield citizens are self-employed, he continued. So most people can’t take a vacation day for Town Meeting Day, meaning taking time to vote can result in financial loss.

Although Marshfield resident Susan Green has lived in Vermont for 52 years, she was brought up in New York City and didn’t experience anything like Town Meeting Day before moving here. She called it a “special thing.”

“I attend every single one every year,” she said. Green values getting together as a community to make decisions that affect her and her neighbors.

Since this will be Marshfield’s first annual meeting on a Sunday, Green’s not sure where she stands on the move.

“I don’t know yet until I see the outcome,” she said, though she is hoping for a bigger turnout compared to recent years.

Several regulars of town meetings didn’t like the change of tradition, Baker said. Members from Christ Covenant Church were concerned with meetings interfering with Sunday services, and families with young children were apprehensive about leaving children home alone on weekends.

Town leaders say they are doing their best to accommodate everyone, Baker said. He added that the town meeting will start at 1 p.m. so that churchgoers won’t miss morning services.

As for families, free daycare will be provided for children between the ages of 3 and 9, according to the town website.

“Personally, I don’t see any downside for it being on the weekend,” Baker said. The only obstacle the select board chair could think of was making sure people are aware of the change.

To help do that, the Jaquith Public Library will host a workshop about town government on February 27, with Michael Caccavo, a Marshfield town meeting moderator.

“Will it work? We’ll find out,” Baker said.

Emily Rodin reported this story on assignment from The Hardwick Gazette. The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost.

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