Vermont Primary Today Already Nears Record With Mail-In Votes
Vermonters are going to the polls today to vote in statewide primary contests. This year the number of people physically at polling places may be lower because a record number of mail-in and absentee ballots were requested.
Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos is the state’s top election official. He says the 2020 election is like no other in recent history. The Democrat says he has had two key goals: preserving voting rights while protecting everyone’s health. “A pandemic and public health crisis requires that we work hard to reduce the high traffic in person voting so that appropriate social distancing interventions and other health measures can be properly implemented in polling places. The high numbers of mail-in votes means that polling places will have manageable numbers that will be able to accommodate voters safely.”
More than 152,000 absentee and mail-in ballots had been requested by voters and as of Monday morning Secretary Condos reported that more than 104,000, a record number, had been returned. Those that have not been mailed can be brought to polling places today. “According to Vermont law, any ballots the clerk receives by mail up to and on Election Day will be counted. And I must remind here postmark dates do not count in Vermont. Our hope is voters heeded our warnings on the by-mail ballot return and those who didn't get their ballots in the mail in time are prepared to bring into the polls.”
Condos says polls will be open as usual but will comply with COVID-19 mandates such as social distancing and mask wearing. Some clerks are also implementing drive-through voting. “Voters will pull up. Someone will check them in, will provide them with their ballots. Then they will pull forward to a private designated spot to vote in their car. And then as they leave they will deliver their ballots to the election workers who will receive them in ballot boxes to be transported to the tabulator or mingled with ballots inside to be counted by hand after 7:00.”
The legislature passed Act 92 and 135 allowing the Secretary of State’s office to respond to election challenges created by the pandemic. Because of the high volume of mail-in ballots Secretary Condos has allowed town clerks and election workers to begin early processing of the returned ballots. “Ballots processed early can either be stored in a secure ballot box or processed through the tabulator, which has been programmed to only display the total number of ballots going through the unit. No actual results will be available until the report is run after the polls close on Election Day at 7pm.”
Condos said one thing that remains normal is that election night results are considered unofficial. “Official Vermont results are certified seven days after the election. We will have the election night reporting system up and running. It will say unofficial results.”
Record turnout for a Vermont primary election is 120,000. Condos says several key races may have led the more than 152,000 Vermonters to request ballots in advance. “The big elephant in the room is COVID-19. However, that's not the only thing. This year we have a contested election on both the Republican and Democratic side for governor. We have contested elections for the Lieutenant Governor on both Republican and Democratic side. We also have a contested election for auditor and we have several contested elections for State Senate. Plus pretty much all the campaigns have been pushing for people to request their absentee ballot.”
At the end of the Burlington City Council meeting late Monday night, City Council President Max Tracy urged people to vote in the primary. “Polling stations will be open for normal hours and there are lots of precautions that they are taking to make voting safe this year. So please if you haven't already please do so. And if you do have an absentee ballot, you can actually still bring your absentee ballot to the polls. So I just want to make sure people know that piece as well. Bring all pieces of the ballot with you to the polls and remember that you can still vote with that absentee ballot.”
Polls are open until 7 p.m. Unofficial results will start appearing on the Secretary of State’s election night reporting site beginning at about 8 p.m.