By Guy Page
The Oregon Secretary of State wants to tell Vermont legislators her state’s hard-won knowledge about vote integrity challenges in a universal vote-by-mail system. But that exchange of information won’t happen if Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, Chair of the House Government Operations Committee, holds a vote this afternoon on S15, Vermont’s universal, vote-by-mail bill.
Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan agreed yesterday to testify (she or a representative), but are unavailable to testify today due to time constraints. Instead, House Gov Ops is scheduled to hear today from a slate of mostly pro-S15 voices – two officials from the Vermont Secretary of State, the ACLU, Ben & Jerry’s – before reconvening at 1 pm to “mark-up and vote” on S15.
Rep. Samantha Lefebvre (R-Orange) said she was told by the Chair that if she found a state official who currently runs elections in a universal, mailed-in ballot, his/her testimony would be welcome. Yesterday, she learned that either Fagan or a representative would be willing to testify. Regarding Fagan’s testimony as a potential goldmine of useful information, Lefebvre quickly brought this news to Copeland-Hanzas – only to be told that the testimony would have to happen at either 9 am (six am Oregon time) or 1 pm (10 am Oregon time, with no-one available on such short notice).
Lefebvre said this is standard-operating-procedure on Gov Ops. “We are consistently politely dismissed,” she said in a phone interview this morning. “I’m just let down. We’re supposed to be representing the voice of our constituents. This [S15] is going to be a huge change. We’re not hearing from all voices that could be heard. I want to make sure the integrity is held up.”
What has Lefebvre and other lawmakers like fellow Gov Ops member Mark Higley (R-Lowell) so upset is that the proposed Vermont universal vote-by-mail law lacks the safeguards enacted by other states. There’s no signature-on-file requirement. No voter ID. In the name of maximizing voter access, the bill would open the door to voter fraud, Lefebvre said.
This isn’t the first time Gov Ops has been accused of rushing a bill. The pension reform bill it approved was sent back to another committee. Yesterday the House approved another bill sent to it by Gov Ops – 16-year-old voters in Brattleboro – but not without criticism for too-quick action there, either.
“My committee has been hammered for rushing bills to the floor. We don’t need that to happen again. How am I supposed to represent my voters if I don’t hear another side?” Lefebvre told Vermont Daily.
Despite conducting vote-by-mail since 1998, Oregon is still struggling with voter acceptance of the integrity of mailed-in voting, even though their system has some of the safeguards S15 lacks. An April 27 post on the Oregon Secretary of State website, “Survey Shows Ongoing Need to Build Confidence, Trust in Oregon’s Election System,” shows Oregonians have a significant ‘perception of voter fraud and vote suppression.’
EDITOR’S UPDATE: at 10:59 Rep. Lefebvre informed Vermont Daily that “I think the message was received” and Copeland-Hanzas “is working to try to get testimony.” The committee meets at 1 pm. Stay tuned…..