Few moments in our history have made more clear the importance of moving to a vote by mail system for our elections. How we run an election should not be political: it’s about ensuring access and, in the case of COVID-19, protecting the health and safety of Vermonters. As a State Representative, I’ve always tried to work with my colleagues on different sides of the aisle to forge consensus. I’m proud to stand with my fellow State Reps, Lori Houghton, Linda Myers, and Marybeth Redmond, to call for an all-mail election this November. Our editorial is below:
COVID-19 has disrupted many aspects of daily life and has the potential to impact our civic duty of voting in upcoming elections. At a time when public health is at risk, the Vermont House of Representatives has been working with our Secretary of State to develop ways to ensure that our democracy remains strong. One of the ways to do that is by creating a safe, secure, and accessible vote-by-mail program for the November 2020 General Election.
Vote-by-mail is the safest way to conduct elections in this time of global pandemic, especially with health experts predicting possible spikes in coronavirus spread come fall. Five states currently conduct all elections entirely by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah. Advantages, such as voter convenience, high turnout, and financial savings make this an attractive option.
Though it’s sometimes raised as a concern, fraud rates remain “infinitesimally small,” reports the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Since 2000, for example, Oregon has sent more than 100 million mail-in ballots and documented only a dozen cases of fraud. And because vote-by-mail is long-established in Vermont, the Secretary of State has security procedures up and running.
Closer to home in Vermont, we know vote-by-mail can work because we’ve already implemented policies that allow for voting by absentee ballot. In the 2016 and 2018 general elections, 30 percent of Vermonters voted preemptively, using absentee balloting as a convenient way to study the candidates at their leisure, skip election lines, and exercise their fundamental right from the comforts of home.
At the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, one of the first bills the General Assembly passed into law gave our Secretary of State and local election officials the ability to conduct emergency voting by mail (Act 92, signed into law on March 30). And the Village of Essex Junction and the Essex Westford School District (EWSD) took quick advantage of this new legislation by approving a vote-by-mail election for their budget votes delayed this spring due to the State of Emergency.
The village budget and/or EWSD budget ballots will be sent to 15,000 Essex voters this week, so look for them in your mailboxes! If you live in the junction, you will get ballots for both the municipal and EWSD budgets. If you live in the town outside the village, you will receive a ballot for the EWSD budget. To vote, all you have to do is fill out the ballot and return it by mail (the return postage is paid). You can also drop it off at one of the Essex polling places in-person, from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2 (all mail-in ballots must be received by that date).
While it’s too late to launch a full vote-by-mail program for the August 11 primary, we are committed to working to ensure the November General Election on Nov. 3 is an all-mail election. And to ensure vote-by-mail becomes a reality for the 2020 election, the Secretary of State has to set the wheels in motion now. Designing a system and lining up printers and mail houses to conduct a vote-by-mail program for hundreds of thousands of voters is no small feat and will require careful planning and coordination.
Here’s what you can do in the immediate: please make sure you’re registered to vote. In Vermont, it’s easy to check your voter status without any in-person contact. Visit the Secretary of State’s voting website: mvp.vermont.gov/. From here, you can enter a few pieces of personal information to see if your information is current. You can also request now that an absentee ballot be sent to you for the upcoming primary and General Election.
This election cycle is unlike any in recent memory. At a time when COVID-19 threatens public health, the Vermont House has been working to develop ways to ensure that voting is accessible and convenient for every Vermonter. We want you to know that we will do everything we can to make sure everyone’s right to vote is protected this summer and fall. And, if you agree, write us, or the governor, and let us know: Vermont should vote-by-mail this November.