On March 24, 2021

Senate approves ‘vote by mail’ legislation

Bill would make the popular mailed ballots policy permanent for all general elections in Vermont

The Vermont Senate gave approval last week 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% of Vermont voters want to keep vote by mail, while just 29% oppose it. Additionally 78% of Vermonters also supported 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,” the letter concluded.

“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 next win approval in the House.  Proponents of the bill aim to have it enacted this year so that it takes effect for the 2022 general election.

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