by Matthew Strong
Last week Secretary of State Jim Condos was on the radio program “The Morning Drive with Marcus & Kurt” on WVMT to discuss voting access bill S.15, and a caller revealed potentially explosive allegations of voter fraud.
“In Middlebury I own an apartment building,” a caller said with 2 minutes, 54 seconds remaining in the 22 minute segment. “There were about 25 (unclaimed) ballots by all the mailboxes in the hallway and the college kids scooped them all up, voted them all, and put them in the mailbox,” the caller alleged.
Condos responded to the allegation by recommending the caller reach out to his office or the Attorney General with evidence, and that the alleged incident would potentially be a crime.
The allegations come as the Vermont legislature is working on a bill to make the pandemic-related statewide “vote-by-mail” procedure permanent. S.15 would allow Vermont to join five other states who have a permanent vote by mail system, but without the safeguards the other states have implemented. It passed the Senate by a vote of 27-3.
“In Middlebury I own an apartment building,” a caller told Secretary of State Jim Condos (left) on WVMT’s “Morning Drive.” “There were about 25 (unclaimed) ballots by all the mailboxes in the hallway and the college kids scooped them all up, voted them all, and put them in the mailbox.”
Vermont shattered its voter turnout record in 2020, and proponents cite the ease of the temporary vote by mail protocol as the primary cause and want to make it permanent. 372,366 of 506,312 registered Vermont voters, or 73.5 percent, cast ballots in the 2020 general election. Only 90,513 people voted in person, 280,455 chose to use the mailed ballot (either absentee or mailed without request). Approximately mailed 133,946 ballots went unused.
In light of these new allegations, important questions become apparent. If these fraudulent Middlebury ballots slipped through the system undetected, how do we know all 280,455 ballots are legitimate, and if not, how many were not?
Eric Covey, the Secretary of State’s Chief of Staff office provided official information on two pressing questions when interviewed via email (prior to the WVMT interview allegations coming to light).
Is there any centralized information on the amount of signatures on file for ballot comparison?
“Vermont is not a signature verification state and we do not have voter signatures on file. S.15 does not have a signature verification provision,” Covey responded.
Have there been any allegations of voter ballot fraud or tampering in recent history, either investigated or not deemed credible enough to be investigated?
“Our office referred seven instances of potential irregularities, provided to us from the Town Clerks, to the Attorney General’s office following the 2020 General Election. After investigation, six were found to be administrative errors or non-actionable. Example: the Clerk noted two voters with the same name had voted, only to find out that they were two different and unique voters, a father and son, with the same first and last name, but different middle initial, DOB, etc. casting their individual, unique ballot.
“Wrongdoing was only found in one single instance: a voter who wanted to make a political point by proving he could cast one ballot early by mail, and another at the polls. His goal was to test the system, and he was caught. His activity was detected, reported, investigated and prosecuted. The system worked.
“I’ll also note that prior to 2020, we went many years without a single substantiated complaint of voter fraud and only one actionable instance in the past decade,” Covey wrote.
“But,” Rob Roper, president of the Ethan Allen Institute, which has been following this issue closely, responded, “All those instances involved someone trying to vote twice under their own identity. The guy they caught tried to vote by mail and in person. The clerical mistakes were along the lines of two people with the same name being confused as one person. The system does work in these cases, but as for situations like the one in Middlebury where someone casts someone else’s absentee ballots — someone votes the ballots that erroneously show up in their mailboxes, or votes on behalf of a disinterested friend or relative – there is no system in place to detect fraud in these situations. This kind of thing could be happening a little or a lot. We have no idea. Anyone who says they know fraud doesn’t happen is lying.”
The states that have been doing all-mail voting for a while have put a number of safeguards in place to ensure the kind of fraud that allegedly took place in Middlebury are less likely to occur. A key one in “signature verification,” the process of identifying the person casting the absentee ballot as the person for whom the vote is being accredited by matching a signature on the ballot return envelope with a signature on file with election officials.
Asked if Vermont planned to enact such a safety measure, Covey replied, “Vermont is not a signature verification state and we do not have voter signatures on file. S.15 does not have a signature verification provision.”
Emails to Covey for further comment after the WVMT interview came to light were not returned prior to publication.
“What we’ll have if S.15 becomes law,” said Roper, “is a situation in which we mail out over half a million live ballots into the state, between one hundred and two hundred thousand of which will be unwanted or unclaimed and ripe for being “scooped up” by individuals or organizations intent on stealing elections. And, our election officials, and therefore we the people, will have no way of knowing when and to what extent this occurs. In my humble opinion this is as unacceptable as it is absurd.”
Even with the record turnouts of 2020, voter apathy is extremely high. Americans are one of the least active voting populations among developed countries, with the U.S. coming in at 31 out of 35 countries in voter turnout. In a 2019 Gallup World Poll, 59% of Americans said they were not confident in the honesty of the election process, which was an improvement from 2016’s poll which showed 69% of Americans did not have confidence in the honesty of the process. To put this into perspective, only two other countries in the poll had less confidence in their election process, Chile, and Mexico. In 2006, more votes were cast for American Idol contestants than any president had received in American history to date.
The Vermont legislature joins many states working on voting access and procedures, hundreds of bills have been proposed in dozens of states across the country. Engaging voters and increasing convenience, while also maintaining voting integrity has become a hot-button issue considering recent national stories and a global pandemic.
Helping Americans be engaged by absentee voting is nothing new. Absentee voting first started during the Civil War. In the 1864 presidential election between Lincoln and George McClellan, 19 Union states changed their laws to allow soldiers to vote absentee. Some states permitted soldiers to name a proxy to vote for them back home while others created polling sites in the military camps themselves. About 150,000 out of one million soldiers voted in the election as a result.
Absentee voting is now considered a staple of the election process, but recently there has been confusion between “absentee voting” and “mail-in voting.” Some of that confusion is due to the varied use of the term and regulation differences from state to state. Each state can set their own protocols, set by each legislature. Absentee voting is generally defined as a registered voter who is unable to vote in person on election day, so they personally request a ballot from their local town clerk. What S.15 proposes to do is to automatically mail a ballot to every voter on the voter rolls regardless of whether or not they requested a ballot. The Joint Fiscal Office estimates making this change will cost $800,000 in one time costs for new equipment, $2,043,000 in election year costs, and a new position in the Secretary of State’s Elections team at $125,000 annually (requested by the Secretary of State’s office).
Rutland Senator Joshua Terenzini was one of only 3 senators to vote against the bill and the only one who explained his vote.
“I, along with so many of my colleagues have had the pleasure of serving as ballot clerks, as Justices of the Peace, as members of a select board, and as people who have been champions for free and fair elections. I have spent time at countless events registering voters and encouraging others to participate in our elections, regardless of who they decide to vote for!
“Our right to vote in this country is a cornerstone of our democracy. It’s what sets us apart from other nations and makes America as special as it is. Everyone should have the ability to vote in an election if they choose. However, we already provide the opportunity for all Vermonters to vote by mail in they choose. If a registered voter cannot make it to the polls on election day, or decides that they wish to vote by mail, all that’s needed is a simple phone call to your clerk’s office to request a ballot. This fulfills your request as a voter, allows you to vote, and creates a record of your request.
I also heard from several local town clerks who were not in favor of this bill. As they are the local election officers, their consideration was a deciding factor of mine,” Sen. Terenzini.
Vermont has seen an increase in close races decided by a small number of votes where fraudulent mailed ballots could have made a huge impact.
In 2020 House Speaker Mitzi Johnson lost by 18 votes (23 after recount).
In 2016, after two recounts, David Ainsworth defeated Sarah Buxton by a single vote. Six years prior, Buxton beat Ainsworth by one vote.
In 2014 Scott Milne came within 2,034 votes of beating incumbent Peter Shumlin for governor, out of 193,087 total ballots cast.
In 2010 Vermont had nine House race recounts. Among them, John Rogers lost to fellow Democrat Sam Young by 3 votes.
An increasingly viable alternative to mail voting, with many companies in the process already, is block-chain technology voting systems. Both Republican and Democratic state conventions utilized the technology in recent years. The potential for American Idol voting convenience, coupled with extreme voting integrity, seems to be just around the corner.
In the meantime, S.15 has transferred to the House, with multiple committee assignments expected.
At the very least, the towns and cities that have colleges in them or close by should be required to ask for verification of identification and/or have all voters sign a document attesting that they are legal resident eligible to vote in that city, town or district, have not voted in any other town, state or district and sign then their name. That alone will turn many of the illegal voters away.
Vermont has an already tried and true system of mail-in balloting. It’s called the absentee ballot. That’s all that we need in Vermont.
We certainly don’t need the federal government telling us how to conduct free and fair elections Jimbo!
Again, I say NO VERIFICATION OF ID, NO VOTE PERIOD ! EITHER BY PHOTO ID or WITNESS of SIGNITURE
My understanding has always been that my vote was no body’s business but my own. Voting by mail to be honest needs to have voter identification in place which removes the privacy element and thus opens the door for individuals to be targeted by those who would do anything to expose their voting record and thereby wreck the whole concept of secrecy when it some to the voting process.
How did the witness know the ballots were voted and mailed? It takes time to do that and I doubt he would stand by if the students actually opened, marked, signed, and nested the voted ballots into the return envelope in front of him. Is it just as plausible the students scooped them up to prevent others from doing that? Neither possibility negates the real need to develop a way to ensure only the intended voter casts the ballot.
At least he was there to see what happened. You are just speculating wildly to confirm your own biases.
I am reminded of Captain Renault’s comment to Humphrey Bogart at Rick’s Cafe in the film Casablanca: “I’m shocked…shocked…”
What I haven’t read or heard yet about this proposed everybody-gets-a-ballot-by-mail system is: Does it do away with the ability to go to your local polling place in person?
The answer is no Documania2
Why would Senators be so nonchalant and oblivious to the implications of such a structurer for voting, when it cannot validate a trusted conclusion?
Are these legislators really that naïve?
I like it Lynn
As I have stated before I do not think that it is asking to much of anybody that really wants to vote to present his or herself to an election official at the polling place to be identified either by personal recognition, or by a Vermont Driver’s Licence, or a Vermont “Non Drivers Picture I.D.. (you know, the things that DMV issues to basically anybody that wants one) I do this, and think nothing of it. I expect it to help insure a fair, accurate, secure, and valid election. If anybody for any reason can not get to the polling place anybody can at any time already ask for an absentee ballot. I’m really not seeing any problems that have not already been addressed to insure a valid election. If something is working, why is it that some people seem to have an insatiable need to screw it up ? Oops I mean fix it ?
Legislators should talk to every Postmaster and Every Town Clerk before they vote on this. They know what a mess the massive mailing of ballots was. I NEVER RECEIVED MY MASS MAILED BALLOT!!! What happened to it, as it was never found? Did someone use it and cancel my vote?
I have voted by absentee ballot for years with no problem. Very easy. I request ballot at town office, fill it out and vote in one visit. Town clerk knows me so no problem. The mass mailing is the problem. Making individuals request an absentee ballot, along with ID verification is safe.
Why are legislators so careless about the most important right we have as citizens to have a voice by voting? Why not require ID? Voters have plenty of time to secure a State ID before the next election if they do not have a driver’s license. Why not just let people vote at the polls and request an absentee ballot if desired like always? That way you do not have so many undeliverable or lost ballots roaming around just waiting for someone to use fraudulently to vote, which currently cannot be validated without signatures on file. Making our elections secure is NOT voter suppression like so many are trying to claim. IDs and other security measures helps make sure your vote actually counts and is not cancelled by fraudulent ballots.
I now have zero faith in the security or validity of the proposed procedures of coming elections. Because the government refuses to do a full investigation of the fraud at the national level I have to ask why and what are they trying to hide. Recounts only verify that the number of votes is accurate, not that the ballot is valid or fraud.
Being so quick to declare there was no fraud and dismissing or ignoring millions of people who believe the election results are not accurate and want full investigation makes me not trust the state and national government at all. It is very suspicious behavior to me.
The Bill governing voting in Vermont is S.15 and it was passed by the senate and now resides with Rep Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, the chairwoman of the House Government Operation Committee. Send her an email at email@example.com and tell her that you want a public hearing on this bill before they slide it to the house floor for a vote. We must demand that we get a chance to have our voices heard.
Also, we all need to let our senators and representatives (regardless of their party) that we don’t support this bill as written. Go to https://legislature.vermont.gov/people/ to find your legislators.
Thank you sheppy14 —– The request for a hearing has gone out to Rep. Copeland-Hanzas and this is what went out to my 6 senators and 2 Representatives:
“I’m not convinced this bill is in our best interest. It doesn’t appear to strike the balance between voter convenience and vote integrity that we seek. I think it is poor legislation without much consensus behind it. Please vote against it.”
OUR ELECTED officials SUFFER SEVERE MEMORY LOSS the day after any election . they ‘forget any promises that they may have made to the voter. NO POSITIVE ID = NO VOTE PERIOD.
We have competing narratives: The Right: We need to shore up the integrity of voting –vs– The Left: “Integrity” is another bogus conspiracy theory issue, no problem here, The integrity tactics just make voting more difficult, you’re suppressing votes. Does it occur to anyone that behind this “suppression” argument is a presumption about the competence of citizens? The presumed “Naive” citizens are cast in victim roles. They are victims who’ll let their vote be “suppressed” by the proposed integrity tactics. The response seems to be that states’ efforts won’t be sufficient to thwart such a danger. It’s likened to how Jim Crow laws suppressed voting in earlier times. They’ll again need protective oversight by the federal government’s laws. So I guess our decision is, do we buy this suppression argument, the incompetence of voters and the need for the Federal government to rescued States from their insufficiently protective law making? My hope is that our community is awakening to the mendacity of this narrative coming from the Left.
NEVER TRUST a politician whenever they open their mouth. AN old INDIAN proverb says here I’l change it a bit POLITICIANS Speak with FORKED TUNGUE.
You really needn’t have said more than the first 4 words. “NEVER TRUST a politician”, or and this is my favorite, “I could tell he was ly’n cause his lips was movin’ ” Seriously though I’ve always thought that politicians,lawyers, and insurance companies are in a sorta symbiotic relationship where if we could eliminate one of the groups the other 2 would just melt like the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of OZ. Any body got a bucket of water ?
Why not do it online similar to applying for workers compensation. One has to enter a social security number or license number. That way there is verification. Mail in is simply too easy to cheat at. People that say it doesn’t happen, just don’t realize that it does because there is really no way to prove it happened, let alone know it did. For example, the college students taking all the ballots and filling them out and mailing them in. How would one ever prove that they did it if the voters whose names were on those ballots didn’t plan on voting and likely will never know they had one taken and someone voted in their name? There is literally no way to prove it once the ballot is mailed in. I had a former housemate’s ballot come to my home. He hasn’t lived here in over ten years and lives out of state now. I could have voted and mailed in his ballot and no one would have ever known it.