Advocacy groups, civic organizations, and businesses hailed a brand-new law requiring ballots to be mailed to all active Vermont voters in general elections moving forward. The policy that was put in place as a one-time emergency measure in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic.
Governor Scott issued the following statement when signing S.15, an act relating to mailing out ballots, correcting defective ballots, and miscellaneous changes to state election laws: “I’m signing this bill because I believe making sure voting is easy and accessible, and increasing voter participation, is important. Having said that, we should not limit this expansion of access to general elections alone, which already have the highest voter turnout.
“For greater consistency and to expand access further, I am asking the General Assembly to extend the provisions of this bill to primary elections, local elections and school budget votes when they return to session in January.”
Vermont now becomes just the second state after Nevada to pass universal mail-in legislation this year.
Mail-in voting contributed to the shattering of voter participation records in Vermont last year. Nearly 45,000 more votes were cast in 2020 than in any previous Vermont election. Participation was up in all areas of the state and three out of every four votes were cast early, mostly by mail. Voting from home was found to be safe, secure, and overwhelmingly popular.
“More than 9 out of 10 Vermonters support making voting easier,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG). “This legislation is one big step toward making Vermont the most voter friendly state in the nation. This is something we can all take pride in, especially given the voter suppression efforts underway in other states.”
A statewide poll conducted in February 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, 92% of Vermonters said that it is important to make voting as easy as possible.
In addition to making universal mailed ballots a permanent feature of all future general elections, the new law will allow voters to fix or “cure” a ballot if it has been deemed defective by a town clerk after being submitted. A common defect is when a voter fails to sign the inner security envelope when returning a ballot. In the 2020 general election, with no curing process available, nearly 1,500 Vermont voters where disenfranchised when their ballots were deemed defective.
Secretary of State Jim Condos and his staff provided critical leadership and support throughout the legislative process and local election officials were instrumental as well.
“Vermonters of all political stripes overwhelmingly agree that access to voting should be both as easy and secure as possible. Vermont has taken an enormous step towards increasing voter access by enacting this law. RepresentUs has been honored to work with VPIRG and the entire democracy coalition to help pass this law,” said Dexter Williams, senior state legislative manager for RepresentUs.
“Today was a good day for democracy here in Vermont,” said Greg Marchildon, AARP Vermont state director. “AARP has fought hard here in Vermont and across the country to preserve and expand voting options for all, and the enactment of S.15 demonstrates how Vermont can lead the nation on this critically important issue. We applaud the commitment of our lawmakers and of Secretary Condos in seeing this legislation through.”
“While my colleagues around the country are fighting tooth and nail against a wave of voter disenfranchisement, it gives me hope to see Vermonters from all political backgrounds coming together to say democracy is stronger when everyone can participate,” added Falko Schilling, ACLU of Vermont advocacy director.
“With voting access being rolled back across the country, we are pleased that this legislation found tripartisan support in Vermont. We know that universal vote-by-mail increases voter turnout, and that a healthy democracy is essential for a healthy environment,” added Shelden Goodwin, political outreach associate for Vermont Conservation Voters.
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. Secretary Condos called S.15 the “largest expansion of Vermont voter access in decades,” adding: “Today we should be proud as Vermonters. Around the country we are witnessing an assault on voting rights, as state legislatures use conspiracy theories and lies as cover to restrict the Constitutionally guaranteed rights of American voters.
“Here in the Green Mountain State we chose a different path. Building on the success of 2020’s record-setting voter participation … I firmly believe that our democracy is stronger when we all participate.
“Once again, Vermont is leading the nation … With the enactment of S.15, Vermont is now one of the most voter-friendly states in the country, while maintaining strong safeguards ensuring the security and integrity of our elections and the results they produce.
“In 2020 … Vermonters responded by voting in record-shattering numbers, for both total turnout and early or by mail voting. The message was clear: when you give people the tools they need to vote, they do,” Condos concluded.