Vermont began mailing ballots to every registered voter Monday in the hopes that people will return them by mail instead of crowding polling places November 3 during a global pandemic.
The polls will still be open for residents who want to vote in person or drop off their ballots on Election Day. But Secretary of State Jim Condos said in a statement Monday he hoped that people would vote early to prevent town clerks from being deluged with last-minute absentee ballots.
“Seal, sign, and send!’ Condos said in a press release. “I am encouraging Vermont voters to help ‘flatten the absentee ballot curve’ by voting and returning their ballots as early as they feel comfortable.”
The start of the vote-by-mail process follows an extraordinary partisan tussle that mirrored the national debate over the wisdom of changing election processes during the public health emergency.
Supporters call voting by mail the best way to ensure people can cast a ballot without risking their health or that of poll workers. Critics charge, with little evidence, that such an expansion may increase the risk of voter fraud.
Gov. Phil Scott and Condos could not agree earlier this year on how or when to best roll out such a dramatic overhaul of the state’s system. Scott favored waiting until after the August primary to make a decision, and hoped that by November, people could safely vote in person. Condos insisted the wheels needed to start turning on such a large effort well before the primary. The legislature in June stripped Scott of a role in the decision.
Condos said voters should expect to receive their ballot between this week and early October.
Anyone who doesn’t get one by October 7 should contact their town clerk.
Election officials do not expect as much confusion with mail-in ballots as people experienced during the August primary.
In that contest, voters had three ballots to choose from — one for each major party — and needed to follow several steps to fill in, sign and return ballots.
This time around, voters will receive just one ballot, but Condos nevertheless urged people to pay attention.
“When Vermonters receive their ballots, it’s important that they follow the included instructions, such as placing their ballot in the voted ballot envelope, filling out the certificate on the envelope completely, and making sure to sign that certificate, for their vote to be counted,” he said.