State Senate passes Vote by Mail bill

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State Senate passes Vote by Mail bill

Tue, 03/16/2021 - 11:07am -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine Statement from Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint regarding Vote by Mail bill: "2020 will go down in history as a year that shook the foundations of American democracy. A bright spot amidst the turmoil was the record voter turnout across the nation - and here in Vermont - during a global pandemic. This record turnout was made possible in part due to vote-by-mail policies. In Vermont, where the Secretary of State mailed ballots to every registered voter, 73% of eligible voters voted, shattering previous records, and 75% of those voted absentee. From same day registration to early voting, our state has a strong track record of making it easier for people to vote. I'm proud that the Senate is contributing to that legacy by making mail-in voting the rule for general elections from now on.  

"Our action today stands in stark contrast to legislatures across the country who continue voter suppression efforts, targeting practices like mail-in voting that have correlated with higher turnout among people of color. The Vermont Senate recognizes that our democracy, and our state, are strengthened when we make elections more accessible to all.  

"When we make voting more accessible, more people vote. When we make voting more accessible, democracy better reflects the will of the people. Voting is one of the most sacred rights and responsibilities that we have. We have to do all we can to ensure that all eligible voters can easily cast their votes and have equal participation in the work of our state and our nation." 

The Vermont Senate gave initial approval today in a voice vote to legislation that will make permanent the policy that was put in place as an emergency measure in 2020 to mail all active registered voters a ballot for the general election.

In addition to making universally-mailed ballots permanent for all general elections, the bill (S.15) would allow voters to fix or “cure” a ballot if it has been deemed defective by a Clerk after being sent in. A common defect is when a voter fails to sign the inner security envelope when returning a ballot.  

A poll conducted last month by the independent firm Lincoln Park Strategies found that 68 percent of Vermont voters want to keep vote by mail, while just 29 percent oppose it. Seventy-eight percent of Vermonters also supported the addition of the curing provision, which was not available to voters during the 2020 election.  

Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint praised the work of the Government Operations committee and its Chair, Sen. Jeanette White: “When we make voting more accessible, more people vote. When we make voting more accessible, our democracy better represents the will of the people. Voting is one of the most sacred rights and responsibilities that we have,” said Balint. “We have to do all we can to ensure that all eligible voters can easily cast their votes and equal participation in the work of our state and our nation.”

Prior to the vote, senators received a letter urging passage of the bill sent jointly by more than a dozen different organizations and businesses in the state.

According to the letter: "There is no doubt that the policy of mailing all voters their ballots was a huge success. It was one big reason why we shattered voter participation records, with about 45,000 more votes cast than in any previous Vermont election. Furthermore, voting from home was found to be safe, simple, secure, and overwhelmingly popular."

The state’s leading pro-democracy organizations strongly support the legislation as an important way to encourage participation while leaving options for in-person voting for all who may need or prefer that method of casting their ballot. The bill also contains a provision directing the Secretary of State to consult with municipalities and interested stakeholders on the best practices for increasing access to voting for non-English-speaking Vermonters.

“Even as voting rights are being attacked and eroded in more than 40 states across the country, Vermont is moving in a different direction,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “It’s critical in this moment that Vermonters unite to stand up for democracy and not retreat from successful policies that maximize voter participation.”

The legislation must win approval once more in the Senate before being sent to the House for consideration there. Proponents of the bill aim to have it enacted this year so that it takes effect for the 2022 general election.

Source: Balint 3.16.2021