Election bill also prevents ‘sore loser’ party switches, requires reporting of candidate gender, race, age
By Guy Page
A bill approved by both the Vermont House and the Senate would allow registered voters living outside the United States to cast absentee ballots via email to a secure portal established by the Vermont Secretary of State.
Electronic balloting is just one feature of H.429, a collection of election law changes. It passed the House March 3. An amended version narrowly passed the Senate by a 16-14 vote on May 12, the final day of the 2023 Legislature. But because of the Senate changes to the House version, it won’t become law this year. House and Senate leaders are likely to seek reconciliation of the two versions in 2024.
Current law allows absentee voters living overseas to receive – but not return – their ballots via email. Once completed, they may fax or mail the ballots to their municipality, or have them picked up by two justices of the peace. However, returning absentees by email is forbidden.
If H.429 passes, it will mark the first time casting ballots by email would be allowed in Vermont under any circumstances. The changes would apply to “Overseas voters,” defined by Senate Gov Op’s May 8 amendment (see pg. 9) as “a person who is qualified to vote in Vermont and resides outside the United States, meaning the several states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa, and military voters who by reason of active military duty are absent from the United States.”
The overseas voter also would be sent electronically, and required to return with an electronically-returned ballot, a signing certificate, attesting to the voter’s name and registered municipality.
The electronically-delivered ballot would be counted by means of a secure online portal administered by the Secretary of State, directly to the clerk before the close of business on the last day the clerk’s office is open prior to the election, with electronic signature on the certificate required prior to submitting the ballot to the clerk.
The Senate version of H429 also includes the following proposals:
Sore Loser Law – A candidate who loses a major party primary be nominated to appear on the general election ballot by a committee of any party other than the party for which the candidate
appeared on the primary ballot. For example, the loser of a Republican primary cannot appear on the general election ballot as a Libertarian, unless he/she also won the Libertarian nomination in the primary.
Limit on candidate contributions to a party – a political party shall accept not more than $20,000 from a candidate for State office. For example, a well-supported, unopposed candidate for state office cannot give more than $20K to his party, for the benefit of fellow party members fighting tougher races with less money.
Candidate gender, age, race, ethnicity reports – all town and county clerks who have received petitions shall notify file with the Secretary of State of the names of all candidates, including the name, gender, age, race or ethnicity, mailing address, and e-mail address of all candidates, to the extent this information is [voluntarily] provided by candidates.
This information would be “exempt from public inspection and copying under the Public Records Act and shall be kept confidential, except that the Secretary of State may publish information pertaining to candidates’ gender, age, or race or ethnicity in aggregate form.” The same information on municipally-elected officials also would be collected.
County candidates also must disclose tax returns – Candidates for state office are already required to disclose 1040 tax returns to the Secretary of State’s office. H429 would also require disclosure by candidates for county offices such as assistant judge, probate judge, sheriff, high bailiff, and State’s Attorney.
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman – a Progressive who ran and won last year as a Democrat – criticized the supermajority Democrat-led changes to the bill as a ‘poison pill.’
“It is unfortunate that poison pill provisions were forced into this bill as there are several pieces that I agree with. However, I believe wholeheartedly that, in an era marked by hyper partisanship, we must do everything in our power to increase voter choice, expand democracy and allow the halls of power to be accessible to people from all walks of life. Across the country we are seeing supermajorities working to reduce voter participation, increase party control and limit choice through election law reforms. With this bill we are seeing this is not just confined to only one party that has such power.”