No one should have to choose between staying safe and exercising their right to vote.
From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, VPIRG and our allies fought to ensure that every eligible voter in Vermont had the option to vote safely and easily by mail in 2020. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Vermont Secretary of State and VPIRG’s staff, allies, and supporters around the state, we achieved a major win: every registered Vermont voter received their ballot by mail for the November 2020 general election.
How did we get there?
Back at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vermont legislators passed a measure empowering Governor Phil Scott and Secretary of State Jim Condos to enact a vote-by-mail system this year without additional legislation. The Secretary of State came up with a plan to mail every registered Vermont voter a ballot for the general election in November, but when the governor proved reluctant to get on board, the issue moved back to the legislature.
S.348, a bill granting full authority to the Secretary of State to mail all registered voters a ballot for the 2020 general election in November, was met with strong support, passing the Senate on a 21-7 vote and the House 115-29. Ultimately, on July 3rd, Governor Scott allowed S.348 to pass into law without his signature, ensuring that every active, registered Vermont voter would received heir ballot by mail for the November 2020 election.
What did vote-by-mail mean for Vermonters in 2020?
For the November 2020 general election, the Secretary of State automatically sent mail-in ballots to every active, registered voter in Vermont.
What resulted was phenomenal:
- A record-shattering 370,968 votes were cast in the 2020 Vermont general election, blowing past the previous general election record by close to 45,000 votes and representing a 73.27% turnout of registered voters.
- Voter turnout increased in every district across the state, compared to the 2016 general election
- Over 75% of all votes cast were via absentee ballots
Vote-By-Mail Myths, Busted:
Despite what you may have heard, claims of fraud associated with voting by mail are rare.
Five states have already successfully adopted vote-by-mail systems that have proven effective. In fact, states with some of the highest voter participation, especially in typically low-turnout primary contests, tend to be vote-by-mail states.
In addition, there is plenty of analysis shows that no political party is exclusively benefited by vote-by-mail. This was clearly seen in Vermont too, where mail-in voting didn’t primarily help one party or another.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How do I find more information about the candidates on the ballot?
- How can I return my ballot?
🗳️Mail it in using the pre-addressed envelope provided. Note that postage is prepaid, so you don’t need to add a stamp. To make sure your ballot arrives in time to be counted, we strongly encourage you to mail it back at least 2 weeks before the election.
🗳️ Bring it back in person to your town clerk.
🗳️ Turn in your mail-in ballot in person at your normal polling location on Election Day – November 3rd. Of course, if you decide to vote in person, make sure you wear a mask and follow all public health guidelines!
- How do I update my legal address if I am still registered to vote at a previous address?
To update your legal address to accurately reflect where you currently live, follow the link that says “Register Online” on the My Voter Page, https://mvp.vermont.gov/ under the subsection “Not yet registered to vote?”. This will bring you to https://olvr.vermont.gov/. From there, select whether or not you have a valid VT-Issued ID, and follow the instructions to update your registration address.
If you’d prefer, you could also call your Town Clerk to resolve this issue. You can find their information at https://sos.vermont.gov/elections/town-clerks.
Finally, before you mail your ballot back, please check to ensure that the outside envelope has the correct town clerk’s office as the recipient. If that also reflects a town other than the one you currently live in, reach out to your town clerk to resolve the error.
- Can I still vote in-person if I want to?
YES! While we are encouraging everyone to vote safely by mail if they are able to, you still have the right to show up to the polls in-person on election day to cast your vote.
- What happens if I am mailed a ballot and show up to vote on election day?
If you bring your ballot with you, you can complete it at the polls.
If your ballot is ‘spoiled’ (you messed it up), it can be disposed of properly and a replacement ballot can be completed in accordance with normal procedures.
If you have already completed your ballot and it has been received by the Town Clerk, your name will be checked off the checklist, thus preventing you from voting twice. If you have not been checked off, you can vote as usual.
- What will happen with same-day voter registration?
This is one reason why we are keeping polling locations open on Election Day. While the Secretary of State and other organizations throughout the state will be doing a big public education and outreach campaign encouraging voters to update their information on the my voter page/database well in advance of the election, people who want to register and vote on Election Day will need to be able to safely and efficiently access their polling location. Of course, citizens can also register and vote on the same day in the weeks leading up to the election, not just on Election Day itself.
- How is this being paid for?
VT has received nearly $3 million from the federal government to fund safe elections despite coronavirus.
- Why can’t we just use the existing system for requesting absentee ballots in Vermont?
About 30 percent of Vermont voters typically vote early or by mail in major elections. That’s about 95,000 people. That still leaves more than 200,000 people voting in person at polling places on Election Day. In order to minimize the risk to voters, poll workers (many of whom may be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19) and other election officials, we need to maximize safe voting from home in 2020. The best way to do that is by mailing every active registered voter a ballot, along with a postage-paid return envelope.
It’s also important to note that if Vermont failed to adopt a vote-by-mail policy for 2020 and instead simply maintained the absentee ballot system, it’s quite possible that Town Clerks would be overwhelmed with ballot requests, especially if there’s a second wave of the virus in the fall.
- Is the voter checklist accurate? Does it include people who are deceased or have moved?
First, Vermont’s voter checklist is far more accurate than it was in the past. The August primary will also be used to further update the list. Two rounds of warning postcards and the primary election will help to provide the most accurate information possible.
Second, having a deceased person on a voter checklist does not constitute fraud. Mailing them a ballot is not fraud. It is the responsibility of Town Officials to keep voter checklists as up to date as possible. Most of them do an excellent job of putting people on the ‘challenged list’ when they are issued a death certificate. The challenge process does take time to complete, but challenged voters will not be receiving ballots in the mail, per the Secretary of State’s current plans.
Challenged voters get a letter and notification to return to the town clerk. If the town clerk does not hear back from the challenged voter, and they do not attempt to vote in two general elections, they are removed from the checklist.
- How will mail forwarding & undeliverable addresses work?
The State’s Elections Director has worked with the post office to ensure that if an address is undeliverable or forwarded, it will be returned to the town clerk.
This includes both rounds of post cards and the ballot in August and November.
- How can we be protected from obtaining and returning ballots meant for someone else?
To be clear, it’s already illegal to commit voter fraud. To fraudulently complete an absentee ballot would require a person to knowingly perjure themselves.
One cannot return an absentee ballot anonymously.
Vermont law already requires a person using an absentee ballot to swear under penalty of perjury that they are:
- A legal voter on the voter registration checklist of the town or city of ____ .
- Not registering, requesting a ballot, or voting in any other jurisdiction in the US, except my jurisdiction in Vermont …
- And that … “The information on this form is true, accurate, and complete to the best of my knowledge. I understand that a material misstatement of fact in completion of this document may constitute grounds for conviction of perjury (Sign, date, and seal). ”
- How big a threat is the illegal practice of ballot harvesting?
The risk of this type of mass voter fraud being successfully executed in Vermont is virtually nonexistent. In fact, the risk of voter fraud associated with voting by mail anywhere in the country has been called infinitesimally small by voting experts.
Tens of thousands off Vermonters have been successfully voting from home for many years and there is no evidence fraud cases involving absentee ballots.
Check out this link for more articles and resources on this topic.
- There are never long lines at VT polling places. What’s the big deal?
It’s expected that 2020 will draw very high voter turnout. If we don’t dramatically increase the percentage of Vermonters voting from home, then we could still have more than 200,000 voters at polling places on Election Day. With social-distancing procedures in place, that will mean voting itself takes much longer. This could add up to longer lines and longer wait times than we have ever seen before at Vermont polls.
- Who says it’s safer to vote from home?
- Isn't it a voter’s right to risk their own health at the polls?
It’s not just the voter’s health at risk. In Vermont, many of our poll workers are over age 65 – the same age demographic that is at a higher risk of death from coronavirus.
Voters over 50 made up 63% of all voters in 2018, and mailing all of them a ballot is an essential step to protect health and safety, and the democratic right to vote.
- What happens to voter participation under vote-by-mail?
Let’s look at what happened in early June when The Essex Westford School District conducted its school budget vote. The District saw a nearly 500% increase in voter turnout compared to last year’s vote.
Studies have shown that voting by mail increases turnout across many demographics. One such study from Colorado, which has been voting by mail since 2013 foun5:
- Overall = 9% increase in voter turnout attributed to vote-by-mail
- Youth = 16% increase
- Blue Collar Workers = 10% increase
- People without high school diploma = 9.6% increase
- African American Voters = 13% Increase
- Latinx Voters = 10% increase
- Asian American = 11% increase
- Democrats and Republicans both saw an 8% benefit
News & Updates
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 ...Read More
The Vermont Senate concurred in a voice vote today with House changes to S.15, legislation that will require ballots to be mailed to all 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. The bill will now ...Read More
119-30 vote indicates the bill will become law this year The Vermont House gave its strong support today to legislation that will require ballots to be mailed to all Vermont voters in general elections moving forward. This policy was put in place as a one-time emergency measure in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic. The ...Read More
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According to a new poll released Tuesday, Vermont voters are overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the practice of mailing a ballot to every voter, a policy that was put in place by state leaders on a temporary basis last year. The poll, conducted by the independent firm Lincoln Park Strategies on behalf of the nonprofit organizations ...Read More
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As we collectively catch our breath (and breathe a sigh of relief!) following the election, we have a lot to be proud of as Vermonters. More than 365,000 Vermonters participated in the 2020 Vermont general election, blowing away the previous record by more than 40,000 votes. This record-breaking turnout is due to a variety of factors – ...Read More
Voter turnout is notoriously low among young people. However, the dominant narrative that young folks don’t vote because we are simply apathetic is largely inaccurate. Often, the primary barriers preventing young voters from voting are structural, not personal. For example, voters age 18-34 face higher levels of voting challenges than all other age groups with barriers such as ...Read More