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Advocates Praise Vermont Legislature’s Passage Of Voter Access Bill

Absentee ballots are checked by elections officials
Pat Bradley/WAMC

The Vermont Senate on Tuesday gave final approval and sent to the governor’s desk a proposal that allows voting by mail in all general elections in the state.

The bill makes permanent provisions that were put in place for the November 2020 election as pandemic safety precautions.  Government Operations Committee Chair Senator Jeanette White, a Windham County Democrat, asked the chamber to accept House changes and pass the bill.  

“If you will remember S.15 is the bill that allows mail out voting for the general election," White said. "And Senate Government Operations voted to accept the changes, to confer with the changes as provided by the other Chamber and we ask  for the support of the Senate.”

The bill passed unanimously.

It allows the mailing of ballots to all active registered voters and ways for voters to make corrections if they make a mistake when returning their ballot.  The bill also calls for a study to determine if vote by mail is feasible during primaries and local elections.  Vermont Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Paul Burns notes the bill passed with multi-partisan support.  

“It did have the support of Democrats, Progressives, Republicans and Independents," Burns said. "Not all Republicans but a significant number did end up voting for this. And I think they just recognized that as it played out in Vermont it was not at all to the benefit of one party or the other. There were Republicans that won in somewhat surprising ways including defeating the Democratic Speaker of House in November of 2020. There were other races that clearly Democrats and Progressives did well. So you can’t say that only one party benefits from having more people vote.”

Democratic Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos says if enacted S.15 will be the largest expansion of voter access in the state in decades. 

“Vermont has always taken seriously access to being able to vote," Condos said. "For instance we have 45 days of early voting period. We have online voter registration, same day voter registration, automatic voter registration. So we’ve taken the steps over the last ten to fifteen years to make it easier for access to the ballot and this is just a continuation of that. So we’re pretty enthused with what came out of the House and the Senate.”

During his COVID briefing on Tuesday Republican Governor Phil Scott indicated he will sign the bill. 

“I have no doubt that if everything is correct that I’ll be signing it," Scott said. "I think we proved in the last election that this was worthwhile. I think it actually benefitted everyone in some respects. And certainly Republicans I think they were more elected last general election than the one before. So I think that getting more people out to vote, making it as easy as possible for them to do so to exercise this right was something that was beneficial to Vermont. I would like to see it expanded to local elections.”

Secretary Condos noted that vote by mail is currently conducted in five other states: Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado and Hawaii.  New Jersey and Massachusetts are considering vote by mail.

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