MONTPELIER — More than 221,000 registered Vermont voters had cast a ballot for Tuesday’s general election as of Wednesday morning, giving Secretary of State James Condos confidence that this year’s turnout will eclipse the number voting in the 2016 general election.
Condos, in a news conference Wednesday morning, outlined how Vermont voters who have yet to cast a ballot may still do so up until 7 p.m. on Election Day. He expressed confidence that unofficial results will be available before Vermonters go to bed. And he thanked voters, in addition to town clerks and election volunteers, for their overwhelming response — a turnout that shattered the state’s previous early voting two record weeks ago.
“The numbers speak for themselves but the bulk of the credit goes to Vermonters in every city and town across the state, whom I would like to thank for embracing the safe, secure voting options available to them during these challenging times,” Condos said.
Under the early voting plan, passed by a vote of the Legislature as a means of stemming the spread of COVID-19, every registered voter was mailed a ballot for the general election. The intent was minimizing long lines and crowds on Election Day.
COVID-19 is surging again and we are glad we planned for the worst,” Condos said of the plan.
Whether Vermont will retain universal early voting by mail remains to be seen. The authority granted by the Legislature was specific to 2020, and ends on Dec. 31. While Condos is open to discussing it with the Legislature, those discussions have not taken place, he said.
“If that want to go that way, that’s a policy decision the legislature has to make,” Condos said. The same goes for whether to continue waiving the signature requirement for ballot access, a provision that also expires at the end of the year. (tncms-asset)a02e03ec-1963-11eb-821b-fb473c464429(/tncms-asset)
Condos was not yet ready to predict that the 2020 turnout would surpass the state’s all-time record of 325,046, set in 2008. But he does think it will surpass the 320,467 votes cast in the 2016 election.
Condos also offered guidance to voters who haven’t returned their ballot yet, did not receive a ballot in the mail, or want to vote in person.
Ballots can be returned to directly to town clerks or to secure voter dropoff boxes until Monday. On Election Day, they can be dropped off or voted on at the polling place, or registered voters can request a blank ballot on the site.
Between 3 and 3.5 percent of early ballots submitted in the primary election were ruled defective under state law, Condos said, mostly due to confusion over what to do with unvoted party primary ballots. He expects the rate to be around 1 percent for the general election, as there’s just one ballot to fill out.
The state’s town clerks, Condos said, are “election superheroes” for the way they have responded to the challenges of handling a presidential election during a pandemic.
“They’re working incredibly hard to keep the front door of our democracy open,” Condos said. “Make sure you thank them.”
Condos also addressed a change in procedure that preserves the right of Vermonters to challenge a ballot, as provided under state law.
Vermont election law allows representatives of a party, candidate or ballot question campaign to see or hear the name of a person voting, and the right to challenge that the person is who they say they are, and whether they’ve already voted. They are not allowed to otherwise interfere in the election.
However, any person wishing the right to challenge ballots must notify their town clerk, in writing, not later than Friday, providing a name, which party or candidate they’re representing, and when they intend to be at the polls.
Condos said the requirement was added so that election officials ensure polling places can comply with COVID-19 guidelines and plan ahead for safety.
Asked whether that’s in response to President Donald Trump calling for observation of polling places, Condos said the move was already envisioned in order to comply with COVID-19 precautions. He said the law allowing for observers to challenge voters has rarely been applied.