Category Archives: election law

House Panel Dials Back on the Self-Dealing, Approves Election Bill

In a fairly quick hearing on Friday, the House Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee voted 9-3 in favor of a package of election reforms. It was a party line vote with all Democrats in favor, all Republicans opposed, and no Progressives on the committee.

The changes in H.97 (as it is now called) make the package less overtly Democrat-friendly, and add an important improvement for those who need to vote remotely. (Text of bill downloadable from the committee’s webpage.)

The latter first: The bill would allow people to deliver their completed ballots electronically by “a secure online portal developed and maintained by the Secretary of State.” This would make it easier for those who have trouble delivering a ballot in person, including some people with disabilities and — especially — military personnel stationed overseas.

The original bill had drawn criticism for advantaging Democrats largely at the expense of the Progressive Party, but two pro-Dem changes were removed or watered down before the committee vote. The original bill would have barred candidates from running under multiple party labels, which is exactly how many Progressive candidates have won office. It would also have removed limits on donations by a candidate to a political party.

As approved, H.97 would allow candidates to run with multiple labels, but it prescribes the order in which the party names would appear next to the candidate. And donations from a candidate to a party would be capped at $100,000, an increase from the current $10,000.

But the bill, as a whole, remains Democrat-friendly.

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Pillow Guy-Funded Ex-Scientist Brings His Election Denialism to Town

From the pen of cub reporter Mike Bielawski comes the exciting news that a scientist — that’s right, an honest-to-God scientist — is coming to Vermont to expose a nefarious scheme to steal the 2020 election from Donald Trump.

The scientist in question is one Douglas G. Frank, reputed to be a “world-renowned physicist with 60 peer-reviewed scientific publications, including cover and feature articles in the world’s leading scientific journals.” Those are words from the press release announcing Frank’s appearance, dutifully transcribed by Bielawski.

Okay, I’ll bite. Who is this Frank guy, and how does being a physicist qualify him to uncover election fraud? I mean, it reminds me uncomfortably of WIlliam Shockley, an honest-to-God Nobel Prize winner who brought disgrace on his own head by advocating “scientific proof” that Black people are just plain inferior to whites.

That’s what happens when an expert in a narrowly-defined field decides his genius can be freely transferred to any other area of life. And with all due respect, Frank can’t possibly be a scientific genius in Shockley’s class. Can he?

Well, no.

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Vermont Republicans Are Trying to Sneak Their Way Into Election Oversight

How much time do you spend researching your local candidates for Justice of the Peace? I follow politics closely and try to learn about the people on the ballot. But do I pay attention to JP races? Nope, can’t say that I do. Does anybody?

Well, the Vermont Republican Party is giving us a reason to care. One of the items on its website concerns running for the resolutely obscure office.

Justices of the Peace are best known for officiating at weddings. But in Vermont they also play a significant role in overseeing local elections. And that’s what the Republicans are interested in. They want election truthers to run for JP so they can get in there and raise hell.

Well, that’s not what they’re saying out loud. But it’s clearly what they mean. Here’s the dog whistle:

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Performative Lawmaking After All

Hey, remember when Senate President Pro Tem (and Congressional candidate) Becca Balint ended legislative efforts to pass a mask mandate? Because Gov. Phil Scott was certain to veto such a bill, she said pursuing the idea would be nothing but a “performative act.” As if it was a bad thing.

Well, late last week the curtain came down on not one, but two “performative acts” that were allowed to go on into the third month of the session before slinking off the stage. Both measures were co-sponsored by Balint and fellow Congressional candidate Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, among others. But most of the opprobrium falls to Balint for two reasons: She’s the boss, and she’s the one who decried performative lawmaking.

The two doomed bills would have established ranked choice voting in Vermont elections and put limits on qualified immunity for law enforcement personnel.

The RCV bill was introduced with great fanfare — and then got dumped into the circular file. Only a single committee hearing was held, and that didn’t happen until last Friday, the deadline day for bills to clear their committees. Not only were Balint and Ram Hinsdale among the eight co-sponsors, but they both appeared in a VPIRG video ad endorsing RCV with some urgency.

I have to say, if the leader of a legislative body feels that strongly about a bill, it would maybe have gotten more consideration. Unless her stance was more performance than substance, that is.

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Does Richie Rich Even Qualify for the Ballot?

Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Vermont anymore

When last we considered Brock Pierce, former child actor, cryptocurrency skillionaire and newly-declared independent candidate for Pat Leahy’s seat in the Senate, we were comparing him to Rich Tarrant, another rich dude who thought he could waltz on in and grab an election all on his own.

Well, turns out there’s another parallel between the two tycoons. Like Tarrant, Pierce’s candidacy raises serious questions about legal residency.

Let us turn to the always reliable pages of the New York Post and an article about crypto fat cats who’ve adopted Puerto Rico as a tax haven. And there, right there, in front of his schmancy Caribbean pied à terre, is none other than Brock Pierce, “the de facto head of [Puerto Rico’s] crypto-championing movement.”

Why has the Isla del Encanto become a haven for newly-minted moneybags? Because of highly favorable tax laws that allow you to basically skirt American taxes without giving up your U.S. passport.

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So I Guess Performative Acts Are Okay Now?

When last we checked in with Senate President Pro Tem (and Congressional hopeful) Becca Balint, she was deep-sixing a mask mandate bill because Gov. Phil Scott would just veto it, thus making further action a pointless “performative act.”

Apparently she’s changed her mind because on Monday, she put on a performative act of her own.

The occasion was a press conference in support of ranked choice voting, a concept that was introduced in both the House and Senate in early 2021 and went absolutely nowhere in either chamber.

Well, it’s back this year, and those endorsing RCV included two of the three Democratic candidates for Congress: Balint herself and Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, the two hopefuls actively competing for the progressive slash Progressive vote. RCV is a high priority for the Progs, so their support for RCV is no surprise.

But Balint’s endorsement was a performative act, plain and simple. Two points.

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Today I Learned Something on True North Reports

I don’t make a habit of reading “True North Reports,” the right-wing “news” site bankrolled by the famously reclusive Lenore Broughton. But I do dip my toe in its clouded waters from time to time, just because you gotta keep an eye on those Fockers.

I just did so, and mirabile dictu, I found a nugget of news!


On True North Reports!

What is this nugget? Well, at a VTGOP meeting over the weekend, party chair Deb Billado announced that the party would file lawsuits against the cities of Montpelier and Winooski over their Legislature-approved charter changes allowing resident noncitizens to vote. “We’re not sitting still on that particular issue,” she told the assembled. “We believe that it goes directly against the Vermont State Constitution section 42 and we are moving forward with legal action.”

Yeah, that qualifies as news. Congrats to Mike Bielawski for being the first, and so far only, person to report that fact.

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Son Of Hey, Let’s Have Some Fun With the Chittenden Senate District!

After I wrote my post about the Chittenden Senate district, I found out that Sen. Kesha Ram has decamped to the suburbs. Specifically, the tony confines of Shelburne. Her Legislative bio still says “Burlington,” but oh well.

This dramatically changes the calculus for reapportionment, or at least my version of it. Rather than try to amend the original post, I decided to start afresh here.

For those just joining us, Vermont is preparing the once-a-decade task of redrawing legislative districts to reflect population changes. The Legislative Apportionment Board will draw up a proposal in time for the House and Senate to approve it or make changes during the 2022 session.

Thanks to a 2019 law, districts cannot include more than three House or Senate seats. This will mean dismembering the six-seat Chittenden district, which is a good thing. Multi-member districts are basically incumbent-protection schemes.

Because Chittenden County is growing while many other areas are shrinking, the district will get at least one more seat and possibly two. (By sheer population, it warrants 7 1/2.)

Adding a Chittenden seat means taking one away somewhere else, so let’s assume the new district will have seven seats, not eight. That means shifting one sizeable community out of the district. Colchester is currently in the Grand Isle district, and it’s likely to stay there in order to protect eternal incumbent Dick Mazza.

But for purposes of this thought experiment, I’m going to focus entirely on Chittenden County and try to describe districts that would be as even as possible population-wise, and keep communities intact whenever possible. On my map, no district would have more than two seats — and the lines could easily be drawn so that each district would have a single senator.

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Hey, Let’s Have Some Fun With the Chittenden Senate District! (Updated)

Interim Update: I’ve been told that Sen. Kesha Ram has moved to Shelburne. If so, that dramatically changes my calculus. I’d consulted her legislative webpage, which lists her residence as in Burlington. I’m pursuing confirmation, and will rewrite that section if need be.

Update Update: Sen. Ram confirms she has moved out of Burlington. That changes things quite a bit; I’m writing an amended post instead of trying to change this one.

Thanks to a law adopted in 2019, the state will have make some major changes to the Chittenden County district during the reapportionment process. The law sets a maximum of three lawmakers in multi-member districts, and Chittenden currently has a ridiculous six at-large seats. It’ll have to be split in half, at minimum. Since the Senate itself has the final say, I expect the new boundaries will give all six Chittenden incumbents a smooth path to re-election. Which probably means the new boundaries won’t be the best possible ones.

Also, sensible boundaries would make it possible for Republicans to pick off a seat or two. Now, Vermont Dems don’t abuse their redistricting power nearly as much as Republican majorities in other states, but I bet they want to keep Vermont’s biggest county to themselves. One factor will make it easier to protect incumbents: The Chittenden district will almost certainly acquire a seventh seat. Either that, or more of Chittenden County will have to be moved to non-Chittenden districts, as is already the case for Colchester.

By; sheer population, Chittenden County should have 7 1/2 Senate seats. I expect the most likely outcome is that it will get a seventh seat, and Colchester will continue to round out the Grand Isle district. (If any incumbent’s going to be protected, it’s Dick Mazza.) And then the bloodletting will commence; maybe the Northeast Kingdom will lose a seat. Could the newest and most conservative of senators, Russ Ingalls, get the shaft?

So let’s do some irresponsible speculating re: the Chittenden district, on the assumption that it gets a seventh seat. We’ll try to keep communities intact while distributing the population evenly.

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In Which I Answer the Apportionment Board’s Questions

Oldie but a goodie.

In Which I Answer the Apportionment Board’s Questions

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is the_gerry-mander_edit-wr.jpg
Oldie but a goodie.

Vermont’s Apportionment Board is preparing for the once-a-decade redrawing of legislative districts. The process has been delayed by months due to the Trump administration causing the first delay in American history for the Census, but the board is doing what it can before it can get its hands on the numbers.

That includes seeking public input on apportionment issues. The board recently posted a piece on VTDigger asking people to answer a few basic questions. So, here are my answers.

What is more important to you: making sure the populations in each district are as close to equal as possible, or allowing larger (within constitutional guidelines) differences in populations to maintain district lines closer to the status quo?

As close to equal as possible. You may already be aware of my general feeling about “the status quo.” The question, I infer, is mainly about district lines following town/city boundaries whenever possible. But that’s already more a polite fiction than an actual reality. It’s sort of a faint yearning for the days when each community sent a single Representative to Montpelier. And those were not the Good Old Days.

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