2016 is going to be a year when early/absentee voting plays a key role in the primary election outcomes.
We tend to think of March Town Meeting Day or early November as the time for elections. Not so for Vermont's primaries. This year's primary election is on August 9th. It's the earliest primary election in state history and – considering that it falls smack dab in the middle of the summer travel season – likely the most inconvenient.
If you are going to be out of town, or simply have a busy schedule with family activities, consider casting your vote early. Early/absentee voting has already started, so you can vote as early as today and have one less thing to worry about in August.
How does early/absentee voting work?
The early voting process is handled by our Town Clerks. You can request to receive a primary election ballot from your Town Clerk and vote by mail. Or, you can stop into your Town Clerk's office and cast your early ballot during office hours. If you are going to vote early, let me recommend you stop in and vote at your Town Clerk’s office. Because Vermont has an open primary, you can vote in any one party’s primary. But that means you receive all parties' primary ballots and have to return your one completed ballot in a designated, signed envelope, with the unused ballots also returned in a separate envelope. I’ve found it easier to not make a mistake – and avoid a spoiled ballot – by casting my early vote under my Town Clerk’s supervision (thanks Tracy!).
A few other voting notes:
If you are 17-years old, you may be eligible to vote. Vermonters who turn 18 on or before November 8th (the general election date) can vote in the August 9th primary. Speaking of 18-year olds, early/absentee voting is great way to cast you first primary ballot. Between school sports practices or summer jobs or getting ready to leave for college, no wonder so few teenagers vote.
While there are states doing everything possible to make it more difficult to vote, that’s not how we roll in Vermont. In Vermont, you can register to vote in a three minute visit to your Town Clerk’s office. Even easier, you can complete your voter registration online by going to the Secretary of State’s website. Kudos to Secretary Condos for launching this option. And you only have to register to vote once, at which point you're on your town's voter rolls for good. You can register to vote as late as the Wednesday before the election.
This year the legislature passed H.458 (Act 80), the Automatic Voter Registration law. Now when you update or apply for a Vermont driver’s license, you are automatically registered to vote. While the law does allow the driver to opt-out of voter registration if they so choose, the aim is to reduce barriers to getting people to vote. Something I found amazing about H.458 was that it passed the House by a 125-1 margin, and passed the Senate unanimously. I remember in 1993 Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the U.S. Senate furiously trying to block “motor voter” legislation at the federal level. It was nice to have VT Republicans supporting H.458.
State House Tutorial
One of my favorite parts of being a state representative is visiting with school groups and discussing what happens in the state legislature. In late-April, Janis Boulbol’s 6th grade class from Sharon Elementary visited the State House. We had a rollicking discussion in the House chamber about how hard it is for a bill to become a law, who decides who gets to sit where in the chamber, what the Speaker’s job is, and how a legislator gets to talk during a debate. We discussed an actual bill initiated by a group of school children that prohibited school buses from idling on school grounds and how, with the concerted effort of those students, that bill became a law.
Just after the legislature adjourned in May, fourth graders from the Marion Cross School visited. While they didn’t get to experience the hustle-bustle of the State House in session, they got to take an extensive tour including sitting in representatives’ seats in the House, walking on the Senate floor, gathering in committee hearing rooms, and seeing the Governor’s ceremonial State House office. We got to discussing so many nuances of what happens in the legislature that I cheated them out of seeing the Cedar Creek Room and its spectacularly large painting of that Civil War battle.
The students in Joanna Waldman’s Thetford Elementary second grade class turned the tables on me. I visited them in early April and got a lesson in policy advocacy. The second graders had heard about the travails of Peep the Duck and debated on what should be done. They concluded that, while you shouldn’t keep a wild animal at home, Peep would die if introduced back into the wild. They wrote letters to the governor seeking a dispensation for Peep and tasked me with delivering them to Governor Shumlin. And the letters worked! VT Fish & Wildlife allowed Peep to stay at his adopted home.
delivering TES 2nd graders' letters to Governor Shumlin