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Vermont Secretary of State Announces Voting Rules For November General Election

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos
photo provided
Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos has issued the formal rules for voting in the 2020 November general election. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports the directive includes safety measures made in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
About a week after outlining rules for primary mail-in balloting, Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos on Monday issued voting rules for the November general election.  The directive allows outdoor and drive-through polling places.  It prohibits any candidate whose name appears on the ballot or any campaign staff member from returning a ballot with exceptions for caregivers and family members. It also allows early processing, but not ballot counting, by town clerks. Secretary Condos, a Democrat, says its key provision is that a ballot will be mailed to every active voter.  “As Vermont's chief election officer, it is my responsibility to ensure that elections are accessible for all eligible Vermont voters and that they are secure to protect the integrity of every ballot cast. We must continue to plan ahead to ensure that our elections can be conducted safely.”

Condos said there have been two overarching goals during planning for the 2020 elections: preserving voting rights and protecting the health and safety of voters, town clerks and election workers. He says sending a ballot via mail gives voters a choice on how they want to cast their ballot and is the state’s best chance to reduce in-person traffic at polling places during the pandemic.  “Act 92 and Act 135 of 2020 grant me the authority to use my best judgment in making temporary changes to election procedures during this 2020 cycle to ensure that our elections can be held safely during the health crisis. Given what we've seen recently from this virus and the level seen in other states, we can take no chances.  No voter should have to choose between their health and their constitutional right to vote.”

Condos said voting by mail is not unusual in Vermont, noting that military personnel and citizens living overseas have relied on the method for years.  “To those skeptics concerned about the integrity of by-mail voting, nonpartisan studies have shown repeatedly that widespread systemic voter fraud including vote-by-mail just doesn't occur.  Data from the nonpartisan Brennan Center demonstrates that a voter is more likely to be struck by lightning than they are to commit voter fraud, mail voting fraud. I have never said and will not say that voter fraud never happens. What I will say is that it is exceedingly rare and it is typically caught, investigated and prosecuted.”

Will Senning is Vermont’s Director of Elections.  “When we mail the ballots those will not be forwardable and they will be returned to sender if they're undeliverable so that as much as possible any that don't land in the hands of the intended recipient get mailed back to the clerk.”

Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters said even before the pandemic, a key concern has been mis- and dis-information about elections.  “It's a threat that's ever present and it can be used to actually affect the outcome of an election. We're part of a national campaign to encourage voters to go directly to election officials’ websites and to our social media pages to ensure that voters are getting accurate election information about registering to vote and about voting and to cut down on the misinformation and disinformation that can surround elections.”

The elections division has so far received 108,000 requests for absentee ballots.  Secretary Condos says that compares to a total of 17,100 requested in 2018 and 22,300 in 2016.