Federal lawsuit seeks to halt Vt. vote-by-mail plan

Published: Sep. 14, 2020 at 5:06 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - One week from Monday, every Vermont voter will start receiving ballots in the mail ahead of the November election. But a group of Republicans is now suing the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office to try to pump the brakes on the effort.

A current and former GOP state representative along with a town clerk are bringing the lawsuit forward, saying a universal mail-in voting system will lead to increased voter fraud.

“It’s going to allow ballots to go to people who may not be of the right mind, if I may say that," said Rep. Brian Smith, R-Derby. "Or someone else could take their ballot and say, ‘Well, I’ll fill this out to what I think it should be and then mail it in.’”

The plaintiffs in the suit argue that the absentee ballot system, which smashed primary election voter turnout records, is good enough.

The Democratic secretary of state says the new system is designed to keep people safe during the pandemic and that widespread voter fraud just doesn’t happen. Secretary of State Jim Condos has said one reason for the nearly 160,000 people voting in the August primary is because he sent out postcards to every voter reminding them to request ballots.

Condos was not available for an interview about this lawsuit, but said in a statement, “We are confident that we stand on firm legal ground to prevail in this lawsuit, which attempts to force voters to choose between their safety and their right to vote."

Condos also says if mail-in voting was put on the backburner now, it would confuse and disenfranchise voters. When asked if he shares the secretary of state’s concerns, Rep. Smith says people are already confused and a new system will just make that worse.

“This just adds to the complication of everything and I don’t think we need to fix something that isn’t broken," Smith said.

Gov. Phil Scott believes mail-in voting will keep voters safe from the pandemic, but he worries about people other than voters and poll workers touching ballots.

“The third party who is able to recover ballots and bring them in. I think that’s a problematic area," said Scott, R-Vermont, at a Friday COVID-19 press briefing.

Voters we spoke with say they aren’t concerned about mail-in voting.

“I’m not particularly concerned that it won’t be counted. I’ve done it before," said Daniel Gates of Montpelier.

“It makes no difference to me whatever is convenient I like having the mail option. No, I’m not concerned about mail in, I think it’s a great idea," said Tim Azarian of Calais.

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