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Weekend Buzz | The History of Elections in Burlington
And how everything changed in the '70s
Good morning, folks! I’d like to welcome Judy Wasserman to the Buzz. Judy is a long-time Burlington resident and local journalist, and I’m thrilled to have her perspective here from time to time. I’ll see you tomorrow; for now, enjoy this story on the history of elections in our town. Take it away, Judy!
Burlington residents didn’t always go to the polls to elect town-wide officers. Actually, voting was quite different, especially in the beginning.
The first election was held 223 years ago, soon after Burlington was incorporated as a town (on Feb. 28, 1799). Back then, officers were elected during Town Meeting; there were no voting precincts, and no formal campaigns.
That first Town Meeting opened on March 11, and the first order of business was to elect town officers, including moderator, John Wood; town clerk, John Walker; and Board of Selectmen & Overseers of the Poor: Jesse Dean, W. Thomas Skilton, W. Samuel Walker, Joseph Winn, and John Wood.
School Committee members were elected at the April 1 TM session: David Blanchard, Jesse Dean, John Kendall, and Reuben Kimball.
Rev. John Marrett, pastor of the Congregational Church, wrote in his diary on March 11: ‘fair & cold in evening, attended first town meeting … to choose town officers.’
In 1799, Burlington’s population was approximately 535, but it is unclear how many residents voted for town officers on March 11.
A week later, on March 18, according to the late town historians, Martha Sewall Curtis and John E. Fogelberg, the town celebrated its incorporation with a ‘sumptuous dinner’ in Wood Tavern in the center of town. Marrett offered toasts to various government officials, and concluded with a toast to Burlington residents: ‘May they unite like a band of brothers, and increase in wisdom, strength, and virtue, and may no private animosity or local prejudice ever annoy their future prosperity,’
By the way, Curtis reported at the 100th anniversary of incorporation that the first Town Meeting considered articles to decide what to do with swine going at large, and to increase the number of hog reefers to four. Oh, for the good old days!
Voting at open Town Meeting continued until, in 1971, Burlington accepted the state’s Chapter 686 of the Acts of 1970, providing for representative Town Meeting. Voters went to the polls on March 4, 1972, to elect the first Town Meeting representatives.
In other election history, according to Town Archivist Daniel McCormack, town officials consolidated Burlington’s six precincts into one location, the high school, in 1992. The first election held at that one site was the state election in September. The first town election at the high school was in April, 1993.
In 2011, due to an increase in 2010 U.S. census numbers for Burlington, the town was required to add a seventh precinct.
Ten years ago, in 2012, registered voters numbered 15,160, and 19.2 percent or 2921 residents voted in the town election.
In 2021, there were 17,371 registered voters, and 2873 or 16.5 percent residents voted. According to the town clerk’s office, there were 17,313 registered voters as of March 15, 2022.
So, here’s a challenge for voters: Can you top last year’s voter turnout percentage of 16.5 percent?
You can! Just vote on Saturday, April 9, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., at Burlington High School, and be part of Burlington history.
by Judy Wasserman
Judy’s family has lived in Burlington since 1972. Her newspaper assignments have included: Reporter, Concord Journal; Editor, Burlington Times-Union; and Editor, Lexington Minuteman.
She also covered the schools for the Allston-Brighton TAB.
She was a Town Meeting member (Precinct 3) for many years; a member of the Burlington Historical Commission; a member of the Grandview Advisory Committee; and a member of the Friends of the Burlington Public Library executive board. She also volunteered at the Pine Glen School for several years.