Voters will be able to fix mail-in ballot mistakes under a new bill
The Vermont legislature gave final approval on Tuesday to a bill that would make mail-in ballots a permanent fixture of voting in the state and would let voters fix their ballot if they make a mistake.
Lawmakers, voting rights advocates and Secretary of State Jim Condos all applauded the passage of S.15, which now heads to the desk of Gov. Phil Scott, who is expected to sign it.
“The passage of our bill sends a clear signal that we believe our democracy is stronger when we make it more accessible and open to all Vermonters,” House Speaker Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) said in a press release. “S.15 counters the prevailing trend across the U.S. where state legislatures are curtailing voter access with more restrictive election laws."
Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham) framed the bill as a way to ensure the high voter participation rates seen last year continue into the future.
“When we make voting more accessible, more people vote. When we make voting more accessible, democracy better reflects the will of the people,” Balint said.
The bill would require town clerks to mail ballots to all active, registered voters ahead of general elections — the same way the state handled last year's presidential election.
Voters could then mail their ballots, deliver them to the polls or vote in person. The bill also includes a provision to study expanding vote-by-mail to primary and municipal elections, which Scott said he favors.
Voters have long been able to request absentee ballots for any reason in Vermont, but last year’s general election, due to the pandemic, was the first time ballots were mailed to every active voter in the state whether they asked for one or not. That resulted in a 74 percent voter participation rate, up from 68 percent during the 2016 presidential election.
If signed by Scott, the bill would make Vermont one of the most voter-friendly states in the nation at a time when the trend is decidedly otherwise, Condos said in a press release.
“We should be proud of our brave state," Condos said. “While others are working to make it harder to vote, in Vermont we are working to remove barriers to the ballot box for all eligible voters, while strengthening the security and integrity of the voting process.”
Concerns about voter fraud that some Republicans voiced last year largely fell silent this session, and efforts to delay implementation of the bill fell short.
In addition to making universal mail-in voting the default for general elections, the bill gives voters a chance to fix "defective" ballots. About 1,500 ballots were not counted during last November's election because voters failed to follow the multistep process required to properly mark, sign, seal and return them.
The Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which lobbied for the change along with a number of “leading pro-democracy organizations,” also issued a press release praising the bill's passage.
“S.15 is an important win for removing barriers to voting, promoting equity, and building a true democracy in our state,” said Dan Fingas, organizing director for Rights & Democracy.