Signing contracts an issue with Brattleboro underage voting bill

By Guy Page

This week, Gov. Scott is expected to decide whether or not to veto H.386, allowing underage (16- and 17-year-old) Brattleboro residents to vote in local elections and get elected to local boards.

The proposed charter change explicitly gives teenagers the right to do on behalf of the Town something state law otherwise prohibits them: the right to enter into contracts.

For example, under H.386, a 16-year-old Brattleboro resident serving on the selectboard could sign a contract to hire a police chief or buy a multi-million dollar piece of property.

It’s explicit in the bill.

“A youth voter who is elected to a Town office shall be capable of performing all duties and exercising all powers of that office, including the formation and execution of contracts relating to the office or official duties,” H.386 states.

Yet at the same time, contracts signed by Vermonters under 18 are not legally binding, except in very narrow situations such as the buying of some annuities.

Can the Legislature carve out an underage right to sign contracts on the behalf of thousands of other people, while denying the right to sign personal contracts?

Scott last year successfully vetoed a similar under-age Brattleboro voting bill, H.361. His veto statement said lowering the voting ages contradicts other legislative decisions to raise the legal age, including the age of adult accountability for crimes, to as high as 22 years old.

Although Scott didn’t cite the contract problem, opposing senators did. To rectify that problem, Sen. Ruth Hardy claimed in the May 8 floor debate on H.386 that “our legislative Council researched this question and found that it is likely that youth voters would be able to do so.”

However – Vermont Daily Chronicle was unable to find any written record, or verbal explanation, of this finding.

The closest thing to a discussion was a cryptic reference during a May 4 Senate Government Operations discussion preceding its decision to send H.386 to the floor. In anticipation of pushback from some senators, Sen. Becca White (D-Windsor) asked the committee’s lawyer what kind of charter amendments don’t become law.

“Is there a trend in what we don’t approve, or maybe not us as a legislature, but doesn’t become law?,” White asked Legislative Counsel Tucker Anderson.

“Charters or provisions of Charters that are facially unconstitutional typically do not survive the legislative process,” Anderson replied.

“And this would not be an example of that,” White said.

“Correct,” Anderson said.

Anderson offered no explanation — and White gave him little chance to offer one.

“That makes sense,” White quickly responded. “So it’s very rare to have a charter that is not deemed unconstitutional to become one.”

The conversation then veered off in another direction. Furthermore neither Anderson nor anyone else offered written testimony, in either House or Senate committee discussion, about the contract question. In fact, almost the only non-procedural testimony received was from current or recent high school students eager to receive the vote.

If vetoed by the governor, H.386 may have a tough time getting a ⅔ majority in the Senate. It passed the Senate 18-10.

“What I cannot get over is a 16- or 17-year-old serving on an elected council,” Sen. Tom Chittenden (D-Chittenden) said. “I don’t think they should serve.” First, a good lawyer could “make hay” of any board decisions put into effect by a minor. Also, making controversial decisions invites severe criticism — even death threats — on social media, and teenagers shouldn’t be exposed to that, Chittenden said.

On the other hand White, a one-time non-voting high school representative to a school board, called the current adults-only voting and serving scheme “an oligarchy of older Vermonters.”

But Republican majority leader Sen. Randy Brock said the bill flies in the face of other non-adult prohibitions.

“There are some things we don’t allow 16- and 17-year-olds to do,” Brock said — serving in the military and drinking, for instance. “This is not the place for this kind of experimentation.”

Guy Page is publisher of the Vermont Daily Chronicle. Reprinted with permission.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/John Phelan

5 thoughts on “Signing contracts an issue with Brattleboro underage voting bill

  1. If they are considered capable of voting responsibly, then they should be required to register with the Selective Service like we all did when we turned 18.

  2. What is more ‘contractual’ than kids have sex change operations that make them sterile.. but yet this is okay?

    The study of what kids and teenagers can do today and yet can’t do– is all quite interesting.

  3. The despots can’t win without cheating. Upending the election laws in their favor was one step. Pay mules to collect and complete ballots was another step. Flood the country with illegals is another step. Open voting for teens yet another. By next election, toddlers will be given a crayon and a ballot. By the way, word has it that Dominion CEO is saying the company is going bankrupt and will likely fold. Does that mean the company in Salem NH that counts our ballots will go away too? A small glimmer but not good enough to stop the cheating.

  4. I view this as a direct attack upon our Republic.

    This young segment of our population is under direct influence of the public educational system where if you don’t meet the requirements of the curriculum you will be graded well they are still dependent upon their guardians for subsistence and support. I wonder if a get out the vote effort will target these children and if they will comply..we can go to the lake and then have some ice-cream afterwards…

    How many of us were registered to vote as soon as we were 18 in order to support an agenda that we were vaguely familiar with? This happens all of the time and what they’ve done is increase the pool of young voters that will be USED and thus ABUSED in order to support marginal issues.

    I believe that surveys have found that young people tend to have more liberal views…it would seem to be natural that after having been recently provided for by others that a young adult might be more inclined to support socialism..with a spoonful of anarchy to rebel against the newly discovered boundaries of civil society.

    They lust for more control and power with no boundaries and they are grasping at every possible way to achieve complete domination and dictatorship over Vermonters.

  5. 16-17 yr olds don’t have enough financial stake in the game to be voting things that will cost taxpayers more. It’s the stupidest idea ever so you know it comes from P’s and D’s. The leftist commies idea must be they can get them to vote their way while the propaganda is still fresh in their little mush minds.

Comments are closed.