The early voting numbers have been strong, and they took a huge leap over the weekend. On Friday, the Secretary of State’s office reported that 75,342 Vermonters had cast early ballots.
The total as of Monday afternoon? 89,411. That’s more than 14,000 ballots received in one day. Ballots can be returned until the polls close tonight; there are another 9300 early ballots outstanding, so the final early-voting total could approach 100,000. Which would represent nearly 30 percent of the total electorate.
(UPDATE: As of 9:30 this morning, returned ballots are up to 91,593. More than 100,000 people have requested ballots. We’re virtually certain to break the record.)
It would also break our all-time record of 94,663 early ballots cast in 2008.
Early voting is becoming the norm, not the exception. Which is logical; our tradition of holding elections on a single weekday is, frankly, ridiculous. You’d think it was designed to keep voters away.
Vermont has taken many positive steps to simplify voting.
Unlike some states, we no longer require a reason for obtaining an “absentee ballot.” Secretary of State Jim Condos’ revamped website (an actual success story in state government IT) has made it easier to register and request an early ballot. Town clerks have done their part as well.
We’ll take a major step forward in 2017 with automatic voter registration. This will expand the electorate, but we can do more to simplify the voting process.
Here are a few ideas. I don’t necessarily want all of them — indeed, some are redundant. In no particular order:
— Keep the polls open an hour later on Election Day. In a time when more people are in the workforce and many are working longer hours, shutting down at 7 p.m. is an anachronism. Many states stay open until 8; why not us?
— Make Election Day an official holiday. If you don’t want to add a burden to employers, kill Columbus Day. Please.
— If that’s too much, mandate that employers offer two paid hours to all full-time workers on Election Day.
— Expand the hours when early ballots can be returned. We could open some offices the weekend before Election Day or offer evening hours one or two nights per week.
I know ballots can be mailed in, but that requires a bit of planning and a measure of faith in the postal system. Many people feel more comfortable submitting ballots in person.
— Free public transit on Election Day.
— Create a secure dropbox system so people could return ballots at their convenience.
— Create a secure online voting system. If it’s technologically unfeasible right now, we should be working toward it.
Maximum participation should be the goal. We’ve come a long way; let’s keep pushing the envelope.