New election law glitch leaves Secretary of State’s authority ambiguous, Guv says

Gov. Phil Scott lets S348 pass into law, but urges Legislature to fix problem when it reconvenes in August, says House Gov Ops didn’t fix problem when warned

Hardwick couple receives absentee ballot for stranger in their mailbox; Montpelier “Liberty and Justice for All” street mural application on July 8 Montpelier City Council agenda

By Guy Page 

July 3, 2020 – Vermont’s new, universal vote-by-mail law contains a technical flaw “leaving the authority of the Secretary of State ambiguous as it relates to ballot returns,” Gov. Phil Scott said in a July 2 letter to the Legislature made public that same day.

In the letter, Gov. Phil Scott announced he will allow S348, the universal vote-by-mail general election bill, to pass into law without his signature. He urged the Legislature to fix the problem when it reconvenes August 25. 

Specifically, Scott said the bill contains a “cross-reference to a section of the bill that does not exist, leaving the authority of the Secretary of State ambiguous as it relates to ballot returns.” Furthermore the House Government Operations Committee [chaired by Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D-Bradford] failed to fix the problem when warned by the Legislative Council, Gov. Scott said.

Vermont Daily has reached out to the Secretary of State’s Office for comment. Today is a state holiday so an immediate response is not expected. But it will be printed when received. 

Scott’s letter reads as follows:

Today, S. 348, an act relating to temporary elections procedures in the year 2020 will go into law without my signature due to a technical flaw. There appears to be a cross-reference to a section of the bill that does not exist, leaving the authority of the Secretary of State ambiguous as it relates to ballot returns.

It is my understanding that Legislative Council explained this mistake to the House Government Operations Committee and recommended cleanup, but there was a decision made to enact this legislation rather than taking the time to rectify. This is particularly concerning in light of the concerns expressed by many regarding the return process for ballots mailed to all Vermonters

I have said publicly if the General Assembly decided to remove me from this proces, I would not stand in the way. For these reasons, I am letting S348 become law without my signature and I hope the General Assembly will correct the bill’s flaws and ensure full and adequate oversight of the mailin ballot program it has created upon return in August. 

In related news, John des Groseilliers of Hardwick yesterday reported to Vermont Daily receiving a ballot addressed to a complete stranger at his post office box. 

“I just returned from the Post Office with our request for early absentee voter ballot,” the U.S. Army veteran, civic leader, and and longtime funeral home director said. “Interestingly along with my wife Rosalie and mine was someone else with the same exact address as ours. Am I concerned? Most certainly.”

Receiving a mailed ballot meant for someone else does raise questions:

  • What is the recipient supposed to do with it? (Maybe mail it back to the Town Clerk, marked “addressee not at this address, return to sender?”) After all, one’s possession of the ballot may be depriving a qualified registered voter of the right to vote. 
  • How will the town clerk, and the secretary of state, know how many of the mailed ballots are dead letters? 
  • If a voter does not receive a mailed ballot due to an address mixup, can he/she receive another one? And if so, what will happen to the original ballot?

Questions like these have been raised by town clerks ever universal vote-by-mail was set forth as a safer alternative during a pandemic. As more questions arise, and as answers become available from the Secretary of State’s office, Vermont Daily will share them with our readers. 

* * * * *

Gubernatorial candidate John Klar’s application to paint “Liberty and Justice for All” on State Street in Montpelier, next to the Black Lives Matter street mural, is scheduled to be discussed at the July 8 Montpelier City Council meeting, Mayor Anne Watson confirmed to Vermont Daily this morning. The meeting begins at 6:30 pm and can be viewed on Zoom. 

An application to paint the mural was submitted June 29, and denied for lack of time to process in time for the desired July 3 painting date. Klar, who had hoped to have the mural ready by July 4 and a scheduled 10-noon GOP rally on the State House lawn, promptly resubmitted the application for the next scheduled council meeting – July 8. 

The BLM mural request was approved unanimously at a Friday, June 12 special meeting of the City Council. Volunteers painted the lengthy street mural the next day. “It’s a quick turnaround here, but with any organizing campaign, you’ve got to feed off the momentum,” City Councilor Conor Casey said during the special meeting. 

Photo: Gov. Phil Scott (left) and Secretary of State Jim Condos