Universal Mail-In Ballot Bill Clears Key Hurdle in Vermont Senate | Off Message

Universal Mail-In Ballot Bill Clears Key Hurdle in Vermont Senate


Voters will be able to fix mail-in ballot mistakes under a new bill. - FILE: EVA SOLLBERGER ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Eva Sollberger ©️ Seven Days
  • Voters will be able to fix mail-in ballot mistakes under a new bill.
A bill to make universal mail-in ballots a permanent feature of Vermont general elections, and to make it easier for voters to fix mistakes on those ballots, cleared a key legislative hurdle on Tuesday.

The Senate Government Operations Committee voted 4-1 to support the bill, S.15, which now heads to money committees that will assess the cost.

The measure would require town clerks to mail out ballots to all active, registered voters for general elections, pandemic safety issues or not. Every voter would have the chance to return their ballot by mail, deliver it to the polls, or vote as they always have in person.

A key element of the bill would allow people who make errors when filling out their ballots to fix the problem and still have their votes count. During last year’s dramatic expansion of voting by mail, the rate of defective ballots also spiked.

During the general election, fewer than half a percent of voters, or about 1,500 people, cast ballots that were not counted because they failed to follow the specific, multistep process required to properly mark, sign, seal and return their ballots.
The new bill would require clerks to inform voters of defective ballots and give them two ways to fix their error. Voters could do so in person at the clerk’s office or at the polls on Election Day; or they could ask their clerk to mail them a new ballot. As long as they return the new ballot before the close of polls, their vote would count.

Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, praised the committee for its work and said polls show voters strongly support, and appreciate the convenience of, mail-in balloting.

“Vermonters are largely united in the belief that we should make voting easier, not more difficult,” Burns said in a statement.

Audrey Kline, national policy director for the Colorado-based National Vote at Home Institute, said the committee had done a “fabulous job” in crafting an important bill.

“We believe that in Vermont, and every state, voters should have the freedom to cast their votes at home or in person,” Kline told lawmakers. “And we can give voters options that work for them without compromising the security and safety of our elections.”

The lone no vote was by Sen. Brian Collamore (R-Rutland), who said he felt the need for universal mail-in balloting would ease as the pandemic passed. 

He also said he also didn't think the rate of defective ballots was high enough to merit the change, and said the existing absentee ballot system — which requires people to request ballots — works well.

The bill would also require the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office to produce a report by early next year on how to improve access for non-English speaking voters.

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