How does one become a selectboard member?

This post is part of a series of posts on “Learning about town government” in my town of Cambridge, Vermont. Please see the link for context and a list of posts in this series.

This post is about how one becomes a selectboard member.

“Selectboard member” is an elected position in town government. Everyone is familiar with the November elections for state and federal officials. In Vermont, town officials are elected at the annual town meeting which is held in March. The annual town meeting in Cambridge is held on the first Tuesday in March at 9:00 a.m. It is at the gymnasium at the Cambridge Elementary School in Jeffersonville (a village within the town of Cambridge).

Voting for selectboard member is by ballot, but the default method is not like voting for state or federal officials. The default method is called a “floor vote” and it occurs during the meeting. You have to be present to participate. The annual town meeting will have an agenda, called a warning, that is printed and distributed ahead of time. One of the articles in the warning will be the election of town officers, including at least one selectboard member each year. The town meeting moderator will lead the voters through the articles in the warning. When the moderator reaches the election of a selectboard member, he or she will ask for nominations from the floor. When nominations cease, the moderator may ask the candidates to speak briefly. Then blank paper ballots will be handed out and voters will write the name of the person they are voting for. The ballots will be collected and counted, and the results announced, before the meeting continues.

There is another method that towns may use to elect town officers: the familiar pre-printed ballot used in state and federal elections. In Vermont, this is called an “Australian ballot” to distinguish it from the blank paper ballot described in the preceding paragraph. It is called “Australian” because this method of voting was first used in Australia in the 1850s before it became popular everywhere else in the world. Towns may vote to change their method of electing town officers from floor vote to Australian ballot, and they may vote to change back to a floor vote. In Cambridge, town officers are elected by floor vote.

In summary, if you want to run for selectboard in Cambridge:

  • You may campaign ahead of time, but it is optional.
  • Get your supporters to attend town meeting! They have to be present to vote.
  • Find someone to nominate you from the floor.
  • Be prepared to speak from the floor, if asked by the moderator. Keep it short! A long speech will likely cost you votes.

The process will be similar in any Vermont town that elects it officers by floor vote. There will be a different process in Vermont towns that use the Australian ballot method to elect town officers.

I am not aware of any government in the world outside of Vermont that uses the phrase “Australian ballot” any more. It is a genuine Vermontism. It is used to distinguish between the blank paper ballots that are used in some Vermont town meetings and the familiar kind of pre-printed paper ballots that are used in most elections world-wide.

For more about this unique Vermont practice, see this 2014 article in the Burlington Free Press, Vermont’s largest newspaper:

In Vermont, ballots are Australian

Click here to go to the initial post in this series: “Learning about town government.”

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