Committee adds intended safeguards, gets unanimous consent
By Guy Page
The House Government Operations Committee approved S15, the universal mailed ballot bill, by an 11-0 margin Friday after making changes meant to reduce potential for election fraud.
S15 is on the current House “notice calendar,” indicating a floor discussion and vote will follow soon, likely the next day. It passed the Senate on March 18 and until Friday was in House Government Operations.
During committee discussion Friday, Republicans including Reps. Samantha Lefebvre (Orange) and Mark Higley (Lowell) sought more protections for voter integrity. The chair, on the other hand, wanted a unanimous, bi-partisan committee vote, which tends to limit debate on the floor and strengthens the argument for a gubernatorial veto.
According to Lefebvre, the committee discussed S15 until 6 pm Friday evening before taking a vote. “We debated very hard,” she said. In the end, both “sides” got some of what they wanted – although it remains to be seen if the full House, and then the Senate, will agree with the changes.
Lefebvre pushed hard on restriction ‘ballot harvesting,’ which allows individuals and advocacy organizations to collect ballots from voters in their homes, and then deliver them to the polls. Although framed as a neighbor-helping-neighbor way to increase voter participation, ballot harvesting has been used by politically-motivated groups to target vulnerable populations (including the elderly at nursing homes) by seeking to influence voters’ decisions before collecting and delivering the ballots.
“Some members [of Government Operations] were upset and voted no to my ask for no ballot harvesting,” Lefebvre said. “I asked for the limit to be 10, but the chair (fellow Orange County lawmaker Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D-Bradford) moved it to 25.”
The amended bill [pg. 1476 of House Calendar] also includes a study to determine the training, cost and time of providing more safeguards, Lefebvre said. By January 2023, the Secretary of State must conduct a study including any recommended legislation action on “implementing a voter verification system in Vermont that will not disenfranchise voters and that will verify that ballots have been voted by registered voters, including a report back on the time, training and cost involved in implementing the system or systems.”