New interactive map tracks mailed ballot returns in real time
By Valentina Czochanski, Community News Service, with material contributed by Vermont Daily
October 29, 2020 – For the first time ever, every registered voter in Vermont received a ballot in the mail. According to town clerks across Vermont, those ballots are being returned in record numbers.
As of October 29, 69% of the registered voters in Shelburne had returned their ballots. Other towns with more than 60% return rates include Williston, Plainfield, Dummerstown, and Brattleboro, Norwich, Jericho and Strafford. On the lower end were Newport Town and Newport City, both under 30%, and Plymouth with 20%.
This information was culled in “real time” from a new, interactive map created by Community News Service, a news operation staffed by UVM student journalists and overseen by professors and veteran Vermont journalists. Vermonters can learn how many ballots have been returned to their town or city by clicking on the interactive map.
Absentee ballots will not be tabulated until Election Day. However, Town Clerks may open the ballot envelopes and prepare the ballots for tabulation.
As of Oct. 27, over 216,000 people have already cast their vote by mail, according to a daily-updated dataset provided by the Vermont Secretary of State’s Elections Division. With three weeks to go, that number has already surpassed the 2016 general election total of 91,000 for early and mail-in ballots.
“We suspect that this is going to be a dramatic increase in voter turnout,” said Secretary of State Jim Condos.
Town clerks describe “crazy” amount of ballots
We checked in with town clerks from Barre, Brandon, Cambridge, Charlotte, Hinesburg, Milton, Morristown, and Randolph to see how voting is going and what has changed in this unusual election year.
“The volume coming back is robust to say the least,” said Deborah Lefebvre, an assistant town clerk in Barre. “That first week we were just buried in ballots coming back because a lot of people got them, voted, and sent them right back.”
The high return rate is likely including scores of first-time voters, Milton Clerk Sheryl Prince said. “We’re very busy,” Prince said. “We’re getting a lot of people voting who haven’t voted before because they got ballots in the mail.”
When asked if they expected any issues or confusion from first-time voters or folks not accustomed to voting by mail, multiple clerks assured us that there were no more defective ballots than usual.
A ballot may be rejected for several reasons under state law. Brandon Clerk Sue Gage attributes most defective ballots to simple mistakes such as a missing signature or the ballot not being placed in the voted ballot envelope.
Vermont has a historically low defective ballot rate. Jim Condos assumes that this election will have even fewer defective ballots than the primary election, where over 6,000 ballots were uncountable. The problem in the primary was attributed to an influx of first-time mail voters who filled out their ballots incorrectly.
“For the general election, it’s a much simpler process, so we don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” Condos said. “We typically are 1% or less.”
When asked how voting was going in Randolph, Clerk Joyce Mazzucco said, “it’s crazy. We’re overwhelmed.” Close to one-quarter of the town’s registered voters have already mailed in their ballots.
Multiple clerks expressed similar sentiments due to the stream of incoming ballots as well as what Mazzucco estimates as double the quantity of phone calls. Most offices are still closed to the general public because of the pandemic.
In Charlotte, town clerk Mary Mead said that every day the mailbox is stuffed with mail. “Starting last weekend and every weekend going forward I am coming in to pick up ballots and will do that the whole time until the election is over,” Mead said.
PHOTO: Community News Service interactive map showing ballot returns in every Vermont municipality in “real time.”