Advocacy groups, civic organizations, and businesses hailed a brand-new law, signed by Gov. Phil Scott today, requiring ballots to be mailed to all active Vermont voters in general elections moving forward. The policy that was put in place as a one-time emergency measure in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic.
Mail-in voting contributed to the shattering of voter participation records in Vermont last year. Nearly 45,000 more votes were cast in 2020 than in any previous Vermont election. Participation was up in all areas of the state and three out of every four votes were cast early, mostly by mail. Furthermore, voting from home was found to be safe, secure, and overwhelmingly popular.
More than 9 out of 10 Vermonters support making voting easier. This legislation is one big step toward making Vermont the most voter-friendly state in the nation. This is something we can all take pride in, especially given the voter suppression efforts underway in other states.
A statewide poll conducted in February by the independent firm Lincoln Park Strategies found that 68 percent of Vermont voters want to keep vote by mail, while just 29 percent oppose it. Ninety-two percent of Vermonters said that it is important to make voting as easy as possible.
In addition to making universally mailed ballots a permanent feature of all future general elections, the new law will allow voters to fix or “cure” a ballot if it has been deemed defective by a Clerk after being submitted. A common defect is when a voter fails to sign the inner security envelope when returning a ballot. In the 2020 general election, with no curing process available, nearly 1,500 Vermont voters where disenfranchised when their ballots were deemed defective.
A powerful coalition of groups and businesses organized in favor of the legislation. Secretary of State Jim Condos and his staff provided critical leadership and support throughout the legislative process and local election officials were instrumental as well.
“Vermonters of all political stripes overwhelmingly agree that access to voting should be both as easy and secure as possible. Vermont has taken an enormous step towards increasing voter access by enacting this law. RepresentUs has been honored to work with VPIRG and the entire democracy coalition to help pass this law,” said Dexter Williams, Senior State Legislative Manager for RepresentUs.
“Today was a good day for democracy here in Vermont,” said Greg Marchildon, AARP Vermont state director. “AARP has fought hard here in Vermont and across the country to preserve and expand voting options for all, and the enactment of S. 15 demonstrates how Vermont can lead the nation on this critically important issue. We applaud the commitment of our lawmakers and of Secretary Condos in seeing this legislation through.”
“While my colleagues around the country are fighting tooth and nail against a wave of voter disenfranchisement, it gives me hope to see Vermonters from all political backgrounds coming together to say democracy is stronger when everyone can participate,” added Falko Schilling, ACLU of Vermont advocacy director.
“The League of Women Voters of Vermont has been at the forefront of voter service and voter education for over a century. Empowering voters and access to the ballot has been our charge,” said Sue Racanelli, League of Women Voters of Vermont president. “S.15 is a step forward in making our democracy more accessible and equitable for all Vermonters.”
“With voting access being rolled back across the country, we are pleased that this legislation found tri-partisan support in Vermont. We know that universal vote-by-mail increases voter turnout, and that a healthy democracy is essential for a healthy environment,” added Shelden Goodwin, political outreach associate for Vermont Conservation Voters.
“S.15 is an important win for removing barriers to voting, promoting equity, and building a true democracy in our state. As we saw last year, a universal vote-by-mail system drives stronger participation in elections, helping to ensure that the voices of all Vermonters are represented in our electoral process,” said Dan Fingas, Vermont Organizing Director, Rights & Democracy.
“We’re all about access – to health care, to voting, and to the democratic process. Our democracy is stronger when more Vermonters participate, and increasing voter access will build healthier communities, which is something we can all support,” said Lucy Leriche, Vice President, Vermont Public Affairs, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
“Our small businesses know that when democracy is accessible to everyone, our voices and our values are more equitably represented and that this is the foundation for building a society that works for everyone. MSA-VT was proud to support passage of this law and we thank all of our lawmakers who worked hard to get this across the finish line” said Morgan Nichols, Main Street Alliance of Vermont state director.
The state’s leading pro-democracy organizations backed the legislation as an important way to encourage participation while leaving options for in-person voting for all who may need or prefer that method of casting their ballot. The bill also contains a provision directing the Secretary of State to consult with municipalities and interested stakeholders on the best practices for increasing access to voting for non-English-speaking Vermonters.
Vermont becomes just the second state after Nevada to pass universal mail-in legislation this year.