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New England News

Vermont Secretary Of State Discusses Election Preparations Amid A Pandemic

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos
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Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos says early voting in the state is off to a record start.
The Vermont Chamber of Commerce is holding a series of policy forums. The latest featured Secretary of State Condos discussing the voting process and preparations for an election during a pandemic.

The policy series is held virtually and Vermont Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Betsy Bishop fields questions that are submitted in advance or through a chat function. Bishop said Monday’s forum on elections during a pandemic is a timely topic.  “We will be discussing how COVID has impacted the elections, the efforts in Vermont to assure a secure election process and voting trends today.

Condos, a Democrat, has been Vermont’s Secretary of State for 10 years.  He says the 2020 election cycle presented new challenges.  “We actually started working with the Legislature in February as we began looking at the challenging task  of figuring out how to conduct our 2020 election cycle safely and securely in this age of COVID. We’ve had two unwavering goals that have driven every decision we’ve made. One to preserve the voting rights of every eligible Vermont voter but also to protect the health and safety of our town clerks and our election workers.”

Vermont mailed ballots to all active registered voters for the November general election. Condos reported that as of Monday more than 204,000 had been returned.  “We have passed the time by which my office and the postal service has advised people to mail ballots. However there are still safe voting options available.  Voters can bring their ballot to the town clerk anytime during business hours and some of them even have a secure drop box.  If you’re going to vote at the polls on Election Day you should check our website or check with the clerks to make sure that you know where your polling location is because some of them may have moved to a larger space to accommodate social distancing measures.”

Bishop noted there were several questions about how the ballots are counted.  “So what happens when that ballot now is received at any town clerk’s office and by the way does anybody even hand count anymore?”
Condos:  “The Legislature several years ago actually mandated that any town of 1,000 voters or more would be required to have a vote tabulator, an actual scanner that scans the ballot.  The envelope is received. One person will read the name that’s on the certificate envelope and tell the other person and that person will then check off the checklist. The certificate envelope is then opened up. If it’s a hand count town they deposit it into a locked ballot box and those will be counted on election night.  If it’s a tabulator town they can stick it into the tabulator. No results are available.”

Betsy Bishop said many chamber members were curious which pandemic procedural changes would remain in future elections. Condos said the initiatives would be reviewed later this year.  “The actions that we took this year are just for this year.  We plan on probably mid-to-late December bringing a group of clerks together to find out okay what worked well, what didn’t work so well, what recommendations may you have? We expect that the Legislature is going to want to have a discussion about this. We do think at a very minimum that we will probably continue to look at doing at least a ballot request absentee form or postcard. But there are costs to all of this. Vote by mail is not cheaper.”

The full Vermont Chamber of Commerce meeting with Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos can be viewed below.