New England’s ‘Town Meeting’ tradition gives people a direct role in local democracy

WHAT: Town Meeting is a New England tradition that dates back more than 250 years. It offers people a chance to get directly involved in local democracy. One day each year, townsfolk gather to hash out local issues, such as whether to buy a new firetruck or donate some money to the local food pantry.

WHY: Town meetings give residents a chance to talk, listen, debate and vote. Many people who attend town meetings say the tone is refreshingly civil when compared with the nastiness of national politics because people are debating issues with their neighbors face-to-face.

HOW: In Vermont, town meetings are traditionally held on the first Tuesday in March and in some towns, like Elmore, people sit down together afterwards for a potluck lunch.

WHAT’S NEW: The tradition is under threat, with many people feeling they don’t have the time or ability to attend. Many towns in Vermont have elected to move to a secret ballot system similar to the system used in national elections.

IN IMAGES: Here’s an Associated Press photo gallery from two town meetings in Vermont.


The AP receives support from several private foundations to enhance its explanatory coverage of elections and democracy. See more about AP’s democracy initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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