BENNINGTON — With midterm elections a week away, Vermonters are registering to vote in record numbers, but some local town clerks are noticing an uptick in duplicate registrations which may be caused by the state's automatic voter registration.
Some towns in Bennington County are still noticing an increase in registrations, but almost all towns in the county are experiencing a high number of duplicate registrations. Some local town clerks believe this may be due to automatic voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles where residents updating or applying for a license can check a box that also registers them to vote.
Vermont became the fourth state to have automatic registration after former Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a bill in April 2016. Automatic registration started after the 2016 election.
Voter registration climbed to 92.5 percent of the state's population in mid-October, reports VTDigger.
While the town of Bennington is not seeing a noticeable increase of voter registrations, Town Clerk Cassandra Barbeau has noticed "a record number" of duplicate registrations submitted through the Secretary of State My Voter page.
"What I believe is happening is if a person has been on our checklist for a very long time, they registered prior to the requirement of supplying a date of birth and drivers license number," Barbeau said. "So they go on the system and enter that information and there is no match, so they register again."
Barbeau encourages anyone with questions about voter registration to contact the town clerk's office.
"The My Voter page is a great asset to use for sample ballots and personalized polling information," she said. "If anyone wants to add their date of birth and drivers license information...we can add it with just a phone call."
Like Bennington, Pownal, Shaftsbury, Arlington, and Manchester have also received an increase of duplicate registrations.
Pownal Town Clerk Julie Weber says she has noticed "a few more" new voters, but believes the increase is only approximately one percent higher than previous years. She has also seen "about a five percent" increase in absentee ballot requests for the Nov. 6 election.
Similar to Pownal, Arlington has also seen an increase in absentee ballot requests, said Arlington Town Clerk Robin Wilcox, however town offices could not estimate how much of an increase there has been.
"There's definitely an increase," Wilcox said. "People are interested in this election."
Wilcox says the duplicate registrations are "not a big deal" because the town clerk's office is there to assist people who may have unknowingly registered twice. She believes the automatic voter registrations may have led to some people accidentally checking the voter registration button when applying for a license, and then they re-register to vote not knowing they were already registered.
Manchester Town Clerk Anita Sheldon says automatic voter registration through the DMV has "certainly added to the increase in voter registration in Manchester."
Approximately 235 people registered to vote in Manchester from March 2017 to March 2018, Sheldon said. From March to August 2018, Manchester received approximately 140 new voters, and 91 people registered from the end of August until mid-October.
"Similar to Bennington, we are also seeing quite a few duplicate registrations from [the] DMV and online voter registrations," Sheldon said.
Shaftsbury Town Clerk Marlene Hall says there has been a "steady stream" of new voter registrations coming in, but noted that Shaftsbury already has a high voter registration rate. For a town of approximately 3,500 including children, Hall says there are approximately 2,700 voters registered.
During the primary election this year, Hall recalled 19 new Shaftsbury voters signing up that day.
"For me, that seemed really high," she said.
Shaftsbury has also had an increase of duplicate registrations. Like other town clerks, Hall believes part of the problem may be due to people who previously registered through the DMV and did not realize it. For every Shaftsbury resident who registers through the DMV, Hall mails them a form to remind them of their registration.
The Bennington Town Clerk's Office will be open on Saturday, Nov. 3 from 10:00 a.m. to noon for early absentee balloting. The election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Christie Wisniewski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.