MONTPELIER >> The Vermont Republican Party is questioning the distribution of absentee ballots by the secretary of state's office, asserting that Democratic-leaning towns are being sent ballots earlier than places that are more conservative.
"Clearly some voters are being presented with more time to cast their ballot than other voters," wrote party Chair Dave Sunderland in an open letter to Secretary of State Jim Condos, a Democrat. "And, because the equal protection clause protects individuals from unequal treatment by the state, there may be a concern about this process as it relates to equal voting rights."
Sunderland said left-leaning Burlington and Montpelier were among the first to receive absentee ballots, a process he told Condos "could benefit your political party in both state and federal elections." According to Vermont law, clerks can fulfill voter requests for absentee ballots as soon as the town has the ballots.
In a response Tuesday, Condos called Sunderland's accusations "baseless, uninformed, and frankly, offensive."
He said Sunderland's request that individual towns not begin distributing ballots until all municipalities have been provided ballots would violate the law.
"If you had taken the time to review Vermont law regarding the mailing of absentee ballots by the clerk, you would have seen that the law mandates the exact opposite of what you are asking my office to do — it requires that the clerks send an absentee ballot to a voter as soon as the request is made, or as soon as they receive the ballots, whichever is later," Condos wrote.
Condos added that his office plays no role in deciding which towns are sent ballots first and added that Sunderland's request would actually restrict access to voting.
"My office takes every possible step to remain impartial in our administration of the election and to suggest otherwise is a very serious allegation that should be supported with facts before being floated to the media and the public in the guise of a legitimate 'concern' about voting rights," Condos wrote.
Sunderland did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment, and Condos said early Wednesday that he had not heard from the Republican leader since his letter of response.
Friday is the deadline — 45 days before the Nov. 8 election — for town clerks to have ballots available for residents to vote early or absentee. Vermonters who want to request a ballot can contact their local town clerk or visit the secretary of state's website. Residents looking to register to vote may also do so here. The deadline for registration is Nov. 2.