Header image of people raising their hands at a town meeting.

About the Project

Town Meeting is a 200-year old democratic decision-making process – one of the most pure forms of Democracy in the world because every citizen is a legislator – meeting their neighbors face-to-face, debating, deciding and voting on the issues that affect them. In this project we analyze town meeting - drawing from more than four decades of research led by political scientist Frank Bryan.

  • Hot Topics from Town Meeting Day 2019

    Once again, town meeting day gave rise to spirited debates over issues large and small across Vermont. In tiny Belvedere, which again achieved the highest Real Democracy score of 94, residents shelved wage increases for two town officials, and representatives were given an earful on the condition of the local roads, according to two students who attended the meeting.

    In larger Westford and Williston – two towns that have moved away from town meeting as a decision making meeting and to Australian Ballot for most items – Real Democracy scores dipped lower, mostly due to low attendance and low participation rates.

    Environmental issues took center stage at a number of towns, including Leicester where residents grappled with concerns over using insecticides to manage mosquito populations, in Jericho where the merits of road salt alternatives were discussed, and in Underhill where herbicide usage was debated. 

    Act 46, the contentious school merger issue, came up nearly everywhere. In fact in Huntington, the discussion ran more the three hours. Other topics of debate were more obscure, as was the case in Fayston, where residents finally voted to end the centuries-old fence viewer position – a job whose origins date back to when the state was primarily agricultural. Other towns like Hinesburg spent longer discussing improving a single intersection than they did on their million dollar town budget.

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Who is Frank Bryan?

Cover image of Frank Bryan's book, Real Democracy.

This project follows the work of political scientist Frank Bryan, who with his students attended more than fifteen hundred Vermont town meetings over a 30-year period, documenting Vermont’s town meeting as an authentic and meaningful form of direct democracy. 

Find out more about Dr. Bryan's research in his book Real Democracy or by reading All Those In Favor by Susan Clark and Frank Bryan. Learn more by watching the video below of a 2013 interview with Frank or by reading an interview between Frank and Center Director Richard Watts, or by visiting his webpage.


For more information contact:

Richard Watts, Director of the Center for Research on Vermont

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Student Involvement

Students help gather data and produce videos on town meeting. Lunch and mileage is paid for.

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