by Guy Page
Gov. Phil Scott yesterday vetoed H361, the Brattleboro charter change to allow municipal and school voting and office-holding for 16 and 17 year olds.
In an explanatory letter to the House (below), he cited Vermont’s legal inconsistency on the question of legal adulthood, and the need to resolve the question on a statewide basis. Vermont needs a “consistent, statewide policy for both voting and criminal justice,” Scott said.
The Legislature overrode his veto last year, and this year non-citizens are voting in Montpelier and Winooski. However, the numbers are reportedly very low due to concerns that the federal government might construe local voting as a violation of federal election law.
This year, the Legislature appears to be well-positioned to override the H361 veto with the necessary two-thirds vote. H361 passed 102-42 in the House, and 20-9 in the Senate. The House roll call has been published by the Ethan Allen Institute.
Scott’s letter to the House via House Clerk Betsy Wrask appears below:
Dear Ms. Wrask:
Pursuant to Chapter II, Section 11 of the Vermont Constitution, I am returning H.361, An Act Relating to Approval of Amendments to the Charter of the Town of Brattleboro, without my signature.
While I applaud 16- and 17-year-old Vermonters who take an interest in the issues affecting their communities, their state and their country, I do not support lowering the voting age in Brattleboro.
First, given how inconsistent Vermont law already is on the age of adulthood, this proposal will only worsen the problem. For example, the Legislature has repeatedly raised the age of accountability to reduce the consequences when young adults commit criminal offenses. They have argued this approach is justified because these offenders are not mature enough to contemplate the full range of risks and impacts of their actions.
Testimony given by leaders from Columbia University’s Justice Lab, who said Vermont should raise the upper age of juvenile jurisdiction for most crimes, (including some violent crimes) described adolescents and what they called “emerging adults” as more volatile; more susceptible to peer influence; greater risk-takers; and less future-oriented than adults. This view was cited by the Legislature as justification to expand the definition of “child” to those 18 to 22 for purposes of criminal accountability. “Youthful offenders” up to age 22 may now avoid criminal responsibility for their crimes.
Second, if the Legislature is interested in expanding voting access to school-aged children, they should debate this policy change on a statewide basis. I do not support creating a patchwork of core election laws and policies that are different from town to town. The fundamentals of voting should be universal and implemented statewide.
For these reasons, I am returning this legislation without my signature pursuant to Chapter II, Section 11 of the Vermont Constitution.
I understand this is a well-intended local issue. I urge the Legislature to take up a thorough and meaningful debate on Vermont’s age of majority and come up with consistent, statewide policy for both voting and criminal justice.
Philip B. Scott