Category Archives: election law

Phil Scott Really, Really, REALLY Wanted Nothing To Do With the Mail-In Ballot Bill (UPDATED)

Speak No Evil

In the grand tradition of burying inconvenient news by way of a Friday Afternoon Newsdump, Gov. Phil Scott’s office announced on Friday — leading into the Fourth of July weekend, no less — that he would allow S.348 to become law without his signature.

For those keeping score at home, S.348 is the bill allowing the Secretary of State to create a vote-by-mail system for this year’s November elections, due to public health concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic.

Scott’s letter to the General Assembly, attached below, refers to “a technical flaw” in the bill that caused him to withhold his signature. It would be interesting to know if he ever communicated his concern to anyone in the Legislature in a timely manner, or if he waited to spring this until it was too late to fix the bill.

Well, the Friday newsdump worked like a charm. As far as Google can tell, there’s been no actual news coverage of his inaction — besides the Vermont Business Journal’s dutiful posting of Scott’s press release.

Thus endeth the curious case of Phil Scott And The Red-Hot Potato.

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The Great Gouamba strikes again

“… when [the natives] have been condemned to eat nothing but vegetable food for several weeks, [they] have a positive craving for meat, and will do anything to procure it.

“This craving after animal food sometimes becomes almost a disease. It is known by the name of Gouamba, and attacks both white and black men alike. …Those who suffer from it become positive wild beasts at the sight of meat, which they devour with an eagerness that is horrible to witness.”

(From John George Wood, Natural History of Man, 1874)

This particular brand of madness came to my attention in the writings of the great A.J. Liebling, who diagnosed a case of Gouamba in the overwrought media coverage of a 1946 meat shortage blamed on postwar price controls.

Alas, a virulent strain of the Gouamba has overtaken Republicans nationwide and here in Vermont. Their hunger is not for steak, but for scandal in our electoral system. During the campaign, there were frequent press releases from the Vermont Republican Party alleging some kind of skulduggery and/or fecklessness by the office of Democratic Secretary of State Jim Condos, none of which had the slightest hint of merit.

This week, the Gouamba-besotted VTGOP Executive Director Jeff Bartley made a spectacle of himself at the site of an election recount. Indeed, according to VTDigger’s Jasper Craven, Young Jeff was so obnoxious that he was forcibly ejected from the premises.

Elsewhere, noted Gouamba-carrier Vermont Watchdog has yet another evidence-free “story” about security flaws in Vermont’s absentee balloting system. More in a moment, but first let us return to Mr. Bartley.

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Pushing forward on ballot access

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.

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Conservative megadonor casts doubt on ballot security

Lenore Broughton is a generous supporter of conservative politicians. But she’s an intensely private person. She hates having her picture taken, and she usually lets her money do the talking in the political arena.

On Friday afternoon, she stepped out of the shadows for the first time — ironically, to do something that’s pretty damn shady.

She sent a letter to all the town clerks in Vermont warning that the state’s election might be hacked. Or, as she put it, she was warning of “the surprisingly (sic) ease with which the AccuVote-OS optical scanners can be hacked resulting in the switching of votes.”

Her alarm springs from an article posted by Vermont’s most biased news source, Vermont Watchdog. The story was written in mid-September, and was immediately and thoroughly debunked by Secretary of State Jim Condos.

Perhaps Broughton doubts the representations of our Democratic, but scrupulously fair, Secretary of State. After all, Secretaries of State affiliated with her favorite party are often guilty of electoral shenanigans. The VTGOP has frequently made accusations against Condos or his functionaries, but none have ever panned out.

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The DMV needs an overhaul

Ah, the Department of Motor Vehicles: everybody’s stereotype of a complacent, hidebound bureaucracy, where the lines are long and the staff’s hostility is held in check by its somnolence.

The image is unfair to the reality. The DMV has made strides to enter, if not the 21st Century, at least the late 20th. But now it faces new challenges not of its own making, and there needs to be a shakeup in its future.

Among those challenges: responsibility for voter registration which it seems to be fumbling, and an attitude toward the new driver’s privilege cards that seems to have awakened the inner Barney Fife in some DMV employees.

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Coyote over the cliff

Oh, here comes David Sunderland, woebegone chair of the Vermont Republican Party, with his biennial tradition: the totally cooked-up accusation that the Secretary of State has his finger on the electoral scale.

I suppose it’s only natural. After all, Republican Secretaries of State have a long and sordid tradition of playing partisan games. (See: Kris Kobach, Ken Blackwell, and Katherine Harris) But our guy, Jim Condos, may be a solid Democrat, but he’s never given any hint of impropriety in the handling of his official duties.

TFW you've hit "Send" on a stupid press release.

TFW you’ve just been @pwned by Jim Condos..

Still,;like Wile E. Coyote chasing the roadrunner, Sunderland can’t stop himself from trying. Remember two years ago, when he accused an Elections Office employee of partisan bias — without a single shred of evidence that the worker had acted improperly? Sunderland didn’t give a damn about imperiling a man’s career and good name, if he could score a few partisan points in so doing.

This time, Sunderland is raising a stink about the distribution of ballots for the November elections. He notes that different communities are getting ballots at different times. Some have already started mailing ballots to voters who want to vote early.

He raises an “equal protection issue” with some voters getting their ballots earlier than others, and thus having more time to ponder their choices.

Uh-huh. Like those voters are going to spend from now until Election Eve intensively studying their choices — and people who dot n’t their ballots until sometime next week will never be able to catch up.

But that’s not all.

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Early voting reaches modern high

As of yesterday afternoon, nearly 20,000 Vermonters had submitted ballots for today’s primary election. The actual number, per Secretary of State Jim Condos: 19,904. With one full day to go. (More than 25,000 voters requested early ballots, so there’s room for the record total to grow.)

The old record was 18,210, set in the year 2010 when we had a red-hot five-way Democratic primary for governor.  So, a healthy pre-primary turnout and one more indication that the concept of “Election Day” is becoming less relevant. (At the bottom of this post, you’ll find a list of primary turnout figures from 2000 through 2014, prepared by none other than Mr. Condos.)

So, let’s trot out the old abacus and see what we might be looking at for total turnout. To err on the side of caution, we’ll assume that no additional ballots arrive before the deadline, 5:00 p.m. today.

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Eligibility, Schmeligibility

In honor of Primary Eve, I thought it’d be fun to recount a little trip I recently took. A trip deep into the heart of Vermont’s election law. Warning: some scenes may be unsuitable for those with a lick of common sense. Also, do not operate heavy machinery while reading this post.

It all began when a tipster told me that a certain candidate for the Vermont House of Representatives might not meet the residency requirement: to be a candidate, you have to have lived in the district for at least one full year.

Spoiler alert: turns out the candidate does qualify, so far as we can tell. In a way, it’s not a story at all; but the process was enlightening to a politics nerd like me, and It’s My Blog So I’ll Write If I Want To.

The candidate in question is Adam DesLauriers, Democrat running for the House in the two-seat Orange-1 district. Incumbents are Progressive Susan Hatch Davis and Republican Rodney Graham. DesLauriers and Davis are the only candidates on the Democratic ballot, so both are virtually assured of winning nominations.

Rumor had it that DesLauriers, a son of the guy who created the Bolton ski area, only registered to vote in Orange-1 in April of this year, far too late to qualify as a candidate. I confirmed this with the Washington town clerk’s office.

However…

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“Election Day” is an obsolete concept

Us political observers haven’t taken sufficient notice of the fact that early voting is making the idea of “Election Day” ever more irrelevant. And that’s a good thing.

Well, except when a politician flip-flops on a key issue late in the game.

Vermont hasn’t gone as far as some jurisdictions in abandoning the calendrical imperative as a limit to voting rights. Oregon’s elections are entirely conducted by mail, with each registered voter automatically receiving a ballot. We don’t do that, but at least we make ballots freely available either by mail or in person at your town clerk’s office for more than a month before election day.

Although the service is underpublicized (Jim Condos doesn’t have an advertising budget), more and more Vermonters are taking advantage. According to VTDigger, roughly 17 percent of ballots for the “August 9” primary will be returned in person or by mail before the polls open.

This is inconvenient for pollsters and pundits and for politicians crafting last-minute strategery, but it’s a very good thing if it enables more people to vote.

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Kill the caucuses

I was chatting with a Bernie Sanders supporter recently, and (of course) the subject of superdelegates came up. He, of course, sees them as anti-democratic, a tool for the party hierarchy to exert a measure of control.

I see them as a reasonable way for the party to give weight to its most successful and most stalwart figures, but I have no problem with the Vermont Compromise: allow superdelegates if the party wants ‘em, but tie their first-ballot votes to the result of their state’s primary or caucus.

We also discussed primaries, open vs. closed. He favors open primaries, as the most (small-d) democratic way to choose a candidate.

This is all in accord with the general proposition that more voter participation is better than less. So, fine.

But then we get to caucuses. The Sanders supporter hadn’t given them much thought, but felt that there was a place for them because they reflect the level of “passion” behind a candidate.

This isn’t just one person’s view. Generally, the Sanders camp seems unconcerned with the potential unfairness of caucuses. When, in fact, a caucus is one of the best voter-suppression tools around.

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