Municipal clerks speak out on vote-by-Mail plan

  

Support mixed, concerns expressed about cost, fraud

Senate to consider Scott decision carve-out Tuesday

By Guy Page

As the standoff between Gov. Phil Scott and Secretary of State Jim Condos over the General Election in November continues, the full Senate Tuesday will consider taking the universal vote-by-mail decision out of the governor’s hands. 

At his May 22 press conference, Scott expressed dissatisfaction that the Legislature in March left universal voting-by-mail implementation up to just him and Condos.

“I didn’t ask to be put in this position,” Scott said. “If they expected a rubber stamp they selected the wrong person.” Scott would give the final decision to a panel of appointees from his office, the Secretary of State, the Vermont Department of Health, the town clerks’ association, and the mayors’ coalition. “That way we can think about what it means in an objective way, not having anyone who is involved in the election,” he said.

In an effort to bypass this bottleneck, the Senate Gov Operations Committee Tuesday May 27 approved S348, “temporary elections procedures in the year 2020,” allowing Condos to proceed without Scott’s permission. It’s up for initial approval by the full Senate Tuesday, June 2. As reported in Vermont Daily last week, Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) predicted last week it will face opposition

Of the 12 people asked to testify, only one is a municipal clerk: Barre City Clerk Carolyn Dawes, Legislative Chair of the Vermont Municipal Clerks and Treasurers’ Association. Many Vermonters have wondered what Vermont’s municipal clerks think about Sec. Condos’ plan to mail every registered voter a ballot and have the ballots returned by mail or in person. So the twice-monthly newspaper Chronicle of the Vermont State House (of which Vermont Daily publisher Guy Page is the editor) emailed a survey to every municipal clerk listed on the Vermont Secretary of State’s page. 

The clerks were asked if they support or oppose the Secretary’s plan, if they are concerned about technical glitches or voter fraud, and whether the benefits outweigh the problems. Twenty-seven clerks responded, from Lyndon, Hartland, Wolcott, Groton, Ripton, Barre Town, Barre City, Berlin, Calais, Searsburg, Brandon, Ferrisburgh, Charlotte, Sheffield, Topsham, Waltham, Norton, Vernon, Goshen, Peacham, Stratton, Holland, Westmore, Jay, Guildhall, Kirby, Mt. Holly, and Marlboro. Responses were printed in the order received. Due to space concerns, not all responses were printed in their entirety.

Dawn Dwyer, Lyndon – “I am opposed to this plan. As a college town (for now), we have many college students that do not vote but are on our checklist. At best, we have had <25% participation during any election and it’s typically much lower. I believe mailing out ballots to each register voter is a waste of taxpayers money.” As to potential fraud: “It certainly opens the door for it. How do we know who is actually filling out the ballot?”

Clyde Jenne, Hartland – “No. I believe it is the responsibility of the voters to request a ballot. Informing them that this is an option ahead of time via a mass mailing from the SOS would do this I believe….I am not worried about voter fraud any more than now. We have to have faith in the honesty of Vermonters.”

Belinda Clegg, Wolcott – supports plan, not concerned about potential for glitches or fraud. “It will require a lot of work on the part of city and town clerks. But, hey we will step up to the plate and do our statutory job.”

Donna Kelty, Barre Town – Undecided on support. Pro: larger turnout. Con: concern for bad mailing addresses. “USPS mail delivery has not been stellar! Many issues with local deliveries taking longer than they should, ballots never showing up & never being returned, and issues with forwarding orders.

“There is no 100% failproof method to eliminate voter fraud. It could happen in a vote by mail. Example: ballot received at wrong address – someone opens, votes, returns the ballot even though it is not theirs. Then that person goes to the polls and votes a second time.”

Josie Kilbride, Searsburg – “I am NOT completely in favor of mailing out ballots to each voter.  We are a very small town and the amount of ballots that would go out would not be the problem.  What I see as a problem is what happens to the ones that never mail them back or what guarantees that the voter who gets them are the ones voting them… I would rather see the clerk mail to those who request the ballots like we do for absentee ballots and the SOS just pay the postage or send us envelopes that have no need for postage.This could be harder for the large towns but then we would at least have a pretty good idea of how many should be returning for counting.” 

Sue Gage, Brandon – “I support voting by mail. We have been processing absentee ballots for a few years here in Vermont, and it works well. In Brandon, specifically, we have had a large municipal road project and many of our voters opted to vote absentee rather than try to get into the polling station as parking and movement was restricted for a couple of years. It works very well. We also have the ability to NOT mail to challenged voters, who are voters that we are not sure live in the town anymore. We update this list when mail is returned etc., and at least biannually with the BCA.  I feel quite confident in our voter list.” 

Gage is not worried about voter fraud – quite the contrary: “NO NO NO, the only fraud in this country around voting, is that 30% on average vote. That’s a very small percentage of REGISTERED voters. And there are many more who are not even registered. If we had consistent turnout of 80 or 90 percent, then maybe I would have some concerns, but that is far from the case. Presidential Elections may bring out 70% of my registered voters. Still a poor performance if you ask me.”

Carolyn Dawes, Barre City – “Yes, I’m in total agreement with the proposed plan.  It doesn’t take away anybody’s rights to vote in the manner they choose; it just enhances the options. We don’t know where things will be come November, and I believe it’s best to plan for the worst case scenario. Mailing ballots to all active voters will give them the opportunity to vote in a safe and secure way. It offers protections for voters, election workers and the general public, as it will minimize the number of people at the polls on election day.

Mary Mead, Charlotte – “I absolutely do not support the plan to mail every registered voter a ballot. The cost would be ridiculous, I’m wondering where the money is coming from for that. I have 3335 registered voters in my little Town. I can assure you there are plenty of people still on the list who don’t live here anymore, have wrong addresses that have never been updated, or have registered to vote but in fact never vote and when they are challenged, the response is that they want to remain on the voter checklist. 

“I have heard the SOS say that people should go onto the MyVoter page and make sure their mailing address is correct – not an option for many elderly people, or people can’t be bothered. The other thing that happens is they can’t find their name as a registered voter in Town and then they call our office to wonder why that is, which is one more time consuming process on our end. 

“First and foremost, I strongly believe people should bear the responsibility of requesting their own ballot when there is an election that they would like to participate in. There are no wasted ballots, no wrong addresses, no ballots going to the wrong people, no reason to pay for postage-people need to be responsible, the State does not need to be everyone’s Mother.

“What happens to same day registration, also very popular during a big election like the one coming in November. Polls will be open for same day registration and all the people showing up to vote who say they didn’t receive a ballot and want to vote in person…how does that work?

“I see no benefit in mass mailing every registered voter a ballot. I do see the potential for clerks to be overwhelmed and calling it a day on top of everything else.” 

Rosemary Morse, Berlin – “I am opposed to mailing a ballot to everyone. I feel it would be a waste of a lot of time and certainly a lot of money to do it.  A lot spent on folks that have shown they really don’t care about voting since they haven’t in past elections. You would have a lot of ballots out there in trashes.

“I feel that the Clerks and Boards of Civil Authority know their towns and cities better than anyone. Give us the authority to decide what would work best for us with each of our particular circumstances. If that’s mailing to all, ok. If that’s a drive thru election, ok. If that’s some other shape and form, ok. Whatever works best for a town or City to run a legal election. The Sec. Of State’s Office should be there for help and guidance. 

“If we have to just mass mail ballots, instead of directly to those that request, we will be wide open to voter fraud. There will be probably 50% of those mailed ballots in the trash where anyone can do whatever they want with them. And if someone wants to commit voter fraud, they will find a way to use them. I don’t believe Vermont should ever go to universal mailed ballots.”

Judy Fitch Robert, Calais Town Clerk – “I strongly support. Five states already do the all-mail system successfully.  Covid-19 will still be with us through the summer and fall, and this will protect voters and poll workers, elected officials and staff from infection. The amount of labor saved in data-input and phone calls and record keeping for voters individually requesting absentee ballots (versus simply receiving) is enormous. 

“Absentee ballots have been provided for years. There is no research I am aware of that suggests increased fraud, only increased participation.”

William St. Peter, Sheffield – “I support the SOS plan in principle since people seem hesitant to request early / absentee ballots. Overall I am neutral on the benefits vs concerns.”

Alison Dickinson, Ripton  – “I support, with preference that the mailing be to active voters. Other states vote by mail successfully, so I’m willing to try it under these pandemic circumstances.”  

Pam Cousino, Ferrisburgh – Supports. “I am hoping, though, that the way we handle absentee ballots will be different than they are now, which I believe will happen since everyone would be mailed a ballot. It is important during this pandemic that we do whatever we can to keep people apart. We have no idea what November will be like.”

Cynthia Flannigan, Topsham – “Oppose! The cost of printing and mailing all those ballots.” 

Mary Ann Castimore, Waltham – “Mailing ballots to every registered voter is not practical as not every registered voter votes.  The SOS stated in an April 24 letter that every ballot must have return postage, and that drives up expenses no matter what size the town or city is.  Any registered voter can request an absentee ballot at any time for the future elections.” 

“Technical glitches and voter fraud are both serious concerns.  Since this state has same day voter registration, how is this going to be managed? I believe the SOS plan is impractical.”

Betsy Fontaine, Norton – “Mailing ballots to every registered voter is not practical as not every registered voter votes. The SOS stated in an April 24 letter that every ballot must have return postage, and that drives up expenses no matter what size the town or city is. Any registered voter can request an absentee ballot at any time for the future elections.” 

“Technical glitches and voter fraud are both serious concerns. Since this state has same day voter registration, how is this going to be managed? I believe the SOS plan is impractical.”

Carrie Peters, Groton – “I oppose the plan to mail ballots to every registered voter. Even if there is an upswing of the virus in the Fall that is still not a reason to mail every registered voter a ballot. If you are nervous to go to your polling place then ask for an absentee ballot but we should not be sending ballots to people who have no desire, interest or intent on voting. We all make a conscious effort to go to the polls to vote so people should make an effort to ask for a ballot if they want to vote and are not comfortable to come to the polls. I believe it is ridiculous to think the State and Towns want/can afford any extra unnecessary expenses this year. I also feel that it should be up to each town as well. My town has a nice big gym that we vote in, I am already planning to have people enter one door and leave another. I can also control how many people are in the building at one time. 

“It should not be a blanket decision. We are able to do it safely so we should be allowed to do it the right way. I just can’t say enough how much I feel the mail in voting is a terrible idea.”

Rosemary McKinnon, Goshen – “I support the plan to mail ballots, I think that polling places are too high risk for causing an outbreak.” Not concerned about possible glitches, fraud; Benefits outweigh problems “when we are talking about the health of others.”

Tim Arsenault, Vernon – “I fully support this proposal, as nearly all of my BCA members are nearing 70, and I’m not sure the majority of voters will either use a mask or social distance.” 

Thomas Galinat, Peacham – “I do support Secretary Condos plan. I believe our next election is at a critical time in the potential spike of colds, flu, and possibly COVID-19. Secretary Condos is putting Vermonters, and their vote, first.  After all, what good is someone’s vote if they’re no longer alive to see the inauguration.” 

Kent Young, Stratton – supports the SOS plan: “I have a small voter count, so it would not be difficult for us.” Not concerned about potential glitches, fraud. 

Diana Judd, Holland – “I support the general idea and my hope is that only active voters will receive a ballot. There are always registered voters that move away but don’t seem to register to vote at their new residence. Also, we have people that move out of state, but are still on the checklist. It would be such a waste of time and money to send ballots to ALL voters. For the larger cities and towns I expect having many voters voting and having to disinfect and clean between voters would be an overwhelming task. I think that we have all had to change and adapt during this pandemic. I think this is one more thing that we will need to adapt to. They have put many hours into setting up this type of election. They have also had input from clerks as we are the ones who have to implement this.”

Lynette Deatte, Jay – “Oppose. Too much room for error. Some mail gets returned MONTHS later due to insufficient/wrong addresses. Too much room for fraud. One person can fill out many others without knowledge. If that person came forward later to state they never received their ballot, and we show it was filled out and returned, there is no way of knowing where that fraud took place. (By the first mailing or by the caller stating they didn’t receive when they in fact did.)  Leaves way too much room for errors.”

Melissa Zebrowski, Westmore – “Westmore is a very small community so I don’t foresee the potential for voter fraud or potential problems.  We are able to have a lot of control in the distribution and collection of absentee ballots at this time and if it became more than that we could handle the capacity.  If it was at a much larger scale, I would be more concerned.  

“There is a lot more risk involved with voter fraud and potential problems.  Furthermore as with anything that utilizes technology, it is not foolproof and there is always room for error.”

George Blakeslee, Guildhall – “No. I would prefer a postcard sent to all registered voters directing them to eithergo to their MyVoter web page to download the ballot and certification form to complete and mail in, or contact their Town Clerk and request an absentee ballot. The Voter should have to make an effort to vote, just as they always have.”

Wanda Grant, Kirby – “I really have no opposition. I would still like to see the voter having to take the lead in voting.   It is a privilege and should not be taken likely which I feel some will do because the ballot is delivered to them.”

Forrest Holzapfel, Marlboro – “Yes, I support it completely. Vermont has done very well keeping the virus at arms-length but there is no indication it will stay that way. The thought of seeing 600+ voters face-to-face in a one-room town office is not pleasant all the way around. I think voters will rise to the occasion with the difference. I think it is the best solution given the significant barriers imposed by the virus.  This virus affects everyone, regardless of their political affiliation, political agenda, age, race, gender, cultural values, or financial status.”

Susan Covalla, Mt. Holly – “Oppose. They could mail postcards to voters and ask if they want one first. There are so many names on the checklist that have moved or the addresses are wrong. With names being put on when someone gets a drivers license – not all of them are really full time residents and should not be voting in this state. I believe if they want to just mail out ballots to everyone on the checklist it will definitely cause problems. Let people request a ballot – they all have a right to vote – but I feel they should be requested. Also someone may not be home and want a ballot sent someplace else.”