On Thursday the Vermont Senate gave final approval to a measure that would permanently allow mail-in voting.
In 2020 the Vermont Secretary of State received emergency authority to mail ballots to all registered voters due to the pandemic. In the November general election 73% of those eligible voted, and of those 75% used the absentee mail ballots. The Vermont Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would permanently institute universal mailing of ballots to all active voters during general elections. Windham County Democratic Senator Jeanette White offered an overview of the bill during initial consideration. “For every general election the Secretary of State’s office shall mail a ballot to every active voter on the checklist. This was the process used in 2020 and it worked with very few errors that were quickly resolved.”
Following the measure’s preliminary approval Republican Governor Phil Scott said he would like to see its provisions expanded. “My only concern is if we’re going to do it for the general election I’m wondering why not the other elections that we have and if it works for the general election it should work for some of the others. So I would only ask that it get expanded in some capacity like Town Meeting Day for instance.”
Franklin District Republican Senator Corey Parent said he was disappointed with the original bill because it did not address local elections or primaries so he offered an amendment before Thursday’s final vote. “The substitute amendment in front of you is requiring the Secretary of State’s office to report to us issues related to implementing universal vote-by-mail for municipal and primary elections and the impact vote-by-mail would have on access on voting among those who have been historically been disenfranchised. Along with this would be hopefully a path forward on how we could extend vote-by-mail to local elections and primary elections.”
The amendment was approved and Senators then passed the bill on a 27 to 3 vote. Rutland Republican Senator Joshua Terenzini explained his nay. “We already provide the opportunity for all Vermonters to vote by mail if they decide. If a registered voter cannot make it to the polls on Election Day or decides that they wish to vote by mail all that’s needed is a simple phone call to your clerk’s office to request a ballot. I also heard from several local town clerks who not in favor of this bill. Their consideration was a deciding factor of mine.”
Vermont Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Paul Burns says Vermont’s legislation is particularly important as more than 40 states introduce measures to restrict voter rights. “We’re trying to make it as easy as possible as convenient as possible for people to exercise their right to vote. And by making permanent the policy that was used in 2020 to really break all previous participation records we think makes a lot of sense.”
Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, a Democrat, issued a statement calling Senate passage of the bill “a monumental step forward for voter access to the ballot box.”
The bill now moves to the Vermont House for consideration.