Condos: Election access and integrity in the age of COVID-19

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Condos: Election access and integrity in the age of COVID-19

Sun, 06/28/2020 - 7:00am -- tim
Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

by Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos

The COVID-19 health crisis has challenged so many aspects of our society, from our Main Street businesses to our health care facilities. Our elections are not immune.

As we approach both the August 11th primary and November 3rd General Election, there are two goals driving our decision-making:

·         Protecting Vermonters right to cast a ballot, and

·         Protecting the health and safety of voters, town clerks and poll-workers.

Like you, I love going to the polling place on Election Day. Seeing friends, family, and neighbors all doing our civic duty by voting is something truly special to me, and I know many of us share a great deal of pride and enjoyment in that process.

As Vermont’s Chief Election Official, I am responsible for making sure our fair and free elections can be conducted safely despite the presence of a highly contagious virus disrupting our normal everyday activities.

As a state and country, we are facing a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the weeks and months ahead. Medical experts, including Vermont’s Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, have said there is no way to predict with certainty the status of the virus in the Fall. Many are anticipating a second surge, although to what extent is unclear. Sadly, in many areas of the country it already appears to be happening.

Fair and free elections are the very foundation of our democracy. The right to vote is not only sacred, it is enshrined in our Vermont and U.S. Constitutions, guaranteed for every American citizen.

Preserving our right to vote, while protecting the health of every Vermont voter, Town Clerk, and worker at the polls is my #1 priority.

Keep in mind that many voters, and many of our volunteer poll-workers, are in a vulnerable, higher risk demographic. To ensure that in-person voting at the polling places can be conducted safely for those working the polls, and those who need to vote in person, we all need to do what we can to reduce high volume in-person traffic at the polls on Election Day.

To this end, we plan to proactively mail a ballot to all active registered voters this Fall. This one act, of mailing a ballot to all active registered voters, is the only major change I am proposing.

How you choose to vote your ballot, whether early by mail, directly delivering it to your local Town Clerk, or by voting at the polls on Election Day, is your choice to make. I believe Vermonters know what is best for their own health and safety as they decide how to exercise their right to participate in our democracy.

To those skeptics concerned about the integrity of by-mail voting, I welcome their skepticism: we should all care deeply about the integrity of our elections. I only ask that people look to the facts and the evidence, and not secondhand anecdotes or baseless claims and rhetoric.

Non-partisan studies have shown repeatedly that widespread voter fraud, including by-mail, just doesn’t happen. Data from the non-partisan Brennan Center demonstrates that a voter is more likely to be struck by lightning than they are to commit mail voting fraud.

In Vermont we have safeguards in place to ensure the integrity of our elections. Ballots cast by mail are voted and placed by the voter in a certificate envelope containing unique voter information, which the voter seals and signs under the pains and penalties of perjury confirming their identity, and affirming that they were not unduly influenced.

When their ballot is received by the Town Clerk, the Clerk records them as having voted. Using the My Voter Page, voters can check the status of their ballot, including when their request was received, when their ballot was mailed, and when their returned ballot was received.

Thousands of Vermont voters have been voting early by mail every election for years, including citizens living overseas, and our military service members serving our country abroad, all without issue. In fact, our military personnel have been voting by mail since the Civil War. In red and blue states which have implemented 100% vote by mail programs for years, rates of fraud remain infinitesimally small.

The true voter fraud is to deny any eligible voter their right to cast a ballot, which is why we cannot take any chances when it comes to our upcoming elections during 2020. It is my job to make sure your voting rights are protected. I take that job seriously.

Think of it like this: we don’t want to be caught out in the rain without an umbrella, and that’s why we’re planning ahead. We have no way to know if it will be raining in November, but there is a good chance of it. So we’re giving every Vermont voter an umbrella just in case. It's your choice to use it or not, whether its sprinkling, the sun is shining, or if there is a downpour.

With this in mind, the August 11th Statewide Primary election is right around the corner with early voting starting on June 26th. All voters will be receiving a postcard with instructions on how to request an early ballot by mail. These postcards include a tear-off, postage paid, pre-addressed return postcard that voters can use to request their ballot.

Vermont voters are not required to use this postcard to request their ballot. They can also request their ballot directly from their Town Clerk in writing, by phone, by email, or in-person during normal business hours.

Registered voters can also login to their My Voter Page at https://mvp.vermont.gov to check their voter registration status, update information including their mailing address, find their town clerk contact information, locate their polling place, view a sample ballot, and request an early ballot.

Polling places will remain open for those voters who need to vote in person on Election Day. Keep in mind that voting early by mail is safe, secure, and important, as we all work together to respond to a highly contagious and deadly virus.

Remember, your vote is your voice! Thank you for being a voter.