Vermont breaks record for early voting 3 weeks before until Election Day

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) — The Vermont Secretary of State’s office said that, three weeks before the November election, more than 110,000 people have already cast their ballots. The previous record for absentee and early votes case in a single election was 95,203 for November 2016.

Secretary of State Jim Condos said 438,000 ballots have been mailed out, one for every registered voter in the state, “to ensure that people do not have to pick between their health and safety versus casting a ballot” and to protect poll workers and volunteers.

Even before COVID-19, five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington—automatically mailed a ballot for every election to each registered voter. Vermont is one of five more states doing so this year as a temporary pandemic response measure. The other four are California, Montana, Nevada, and New Jersey.

However, one crucial rule of voting in Vermont has not changed. Ballots cast by mail must arrive at each community’s city or town clerk’s office by 7 p.m. on Election Day, November 3. Some other states with the same rule—including Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania—are allowing ballots postmarked by Election Day to count this year, even if they don’t arrive by then.

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Condos said other problems would arise if Vermont were to join them. He asked, “What if the voter drops off their ballot to be mailed on that last day, but the mail isn’t processed with a postmark until the next day?”

Metered mail—like Vermont’s ballots and pre-paid return envelopes—often doesn’t get a postmark at all. Condos said his own envelope didn’t even have one. He asked, “How would we be able to determine the postmark date for those ballots the clerks receive after Election Day?”

Several legal timetables that follow Election Day would also have to change, including the deadlines to certify the ballots, complete a canvassing report and perform a post-election audit. Condos said he discussed these factors with clerks and other stakeholders, and as a result of those discussions, they decided to keep the vote-by-mail deadline as is.

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In Burlington, ballots went out more than three weeks ago, on September 22. Many more mailed-in ballots for the August primary didn’t count than Queen City officials would have liked, due to arriving too late, a missing signature or other errors.

“So far, our numbers for November are looking much better,” assistant Burlington city clerk Amy Bovee said. “It looks like it’s only about 1% of voters so far who’ve made those mistakes, so certainly lower than what we saw in the primary, but we’d like that number to be zero.”

Vermont college students working for the Community News Service have created an online map to track how many people in any community in the state have voted so far. To view the map, click here.

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