Town Meeting 2024 in Deerfield: A Whisker Close Vote

Frontier students and a parent speak in favor of a motion to let 16 and 17-year-olds vote in town elections. It failed by 3 votes.
Frontier students and a parent speak in favor of a motion to let 16 and 17-year-olds vote in town elections. It failed by 3 votes.

I did my civic duty tonight and sat through the annual Deerfield Town Meeting, which began at 7 with people still waiting to get in the door. At 8:50, it was wrapped up, and a surprising NO vote was the result.

For most of the night the proposals about spending, even the biggest tickets of all, education, sailed through, $4M for the high school, $5M for the elementary school. The only small quibble marked with a hold was for the expenditures for air conditioning for six classrooms at the elementary school, $74K.  Just a little clarification, they are using heat pumps and mini splits and they are getting those famous rebates from Eversource.

I was heartened with the EMS chief’s response to a citizen who questioned whether the proposed electric ambulance and the expenditure for the charger was going to work.  He assured them that these new fangled electric battery powered ambulances have come down in price and can last for 12 hours…so no, there should be no problem thinking futuristically with an electric ambulance in the EMS.

As the no-nonsense moderator plowed through reading each line of the expenditures, it all went smoothly. Then it was time for article 21, and with this came three young women from Frontier who read statements about why they thought that letting 16 and 17 year olds vote in town elections could increase civic engagement and might even increase the turn out in town elections that’s woefully small.  Many people spoke about the disappointing low voter turn out, and how this would inspire future citizen voter participation. Many boards also have nobody running and this was another reason, to motivate more people to be involved with town government.

Then the naysayers came up, basically saying that kids who are 16 aren’t old enough to vote, don’t have the skills to understand ballots, and another person suggested that it would be too much stress on the kids to force them to have to make voting decisions. A man took his time up on the mic and reflected on 30 years of teaching and of attending town board meetings. “I’ve never seen anyone that age at a town board meeting in all of those years. If they want to learn about how government works just attend the meetings.”

Other people spoke in favor of the article, and Selectman Tim Hilchey said that the teachers and students had followed the procedure properly to get this on the town meeting warrant.  After more discussion and the moderator shutting down a woman who tried to yell out, it was time to vote. We held our cards up, for as long as it took the moderator to count.

First the yeses and then the nos. And when it was done he called it.  “Article 21 fails to pass by 3 votes.”

So that’s all you need to know about this article and this idea that 16 year olds will be able to vote in Deerfield as they are doing in Tacoma Park Maryland and have passed in nearby Sunderland. In our town, this new idea of enfranchising the youth won’t move forward.

But I commend the students and teachers for a good effort.