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Vt. election officials: Allegations of Middlebury vote irregularities unfounded

Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 5:47 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 7, 2022 at 6:48 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Top Vermont election officials are pushing back against a report claiming to have found voting irregularities in Middlebury’s 2020 election.

The Ethan Allen Institute, a conservative think tank, reported 11 names to the Vermont Secretary of State. These voters may not have been able to vote, but local and state election officials say that’s simply not true.

The Ethan Allen Institute claims they found 10 Middlebury College graduates who had left Vermont before the 2020 election but had absentee ballots cast in their names. The group claims its evidence of poorly maintained voter checklists that puts election integrity at risk.

“We certainly are not calling these voters fraudulent, we are saying if you look at the voter list, it’s a good idea to double-check here,” said EAI’s David Flemming.

Middlebury Town Clerk Ann Webster says she does double-check, cross-referencing the college’s spring and winter graduating classes and property transfers. That’s in addition to the state’s death registry, a 31-state voter database, and automatic voter registration data at the DMV.

Webster says EAI’s findings are wrong, saying five of those 10 voters were simply living overseas at the time and were eligible to vote, three continue to live in Middlebury, and two need further review. Additionally, one was cast by a registered voter but because of human error, was attributed to another voter who had the same first and last name but a different middle name.

“I probably get more complaints from residents of Middlebury who get challenge letters because they may not be participating, they may not be voting, they haven’t signed petitions,” Webster said.

Removing someone from the voter rolls takes time and the town clerk has to reach out to voters in question to confirm they no longer live in town. If the voter doesn’t respond, federal law mandates towns wait for two general election cycles before scrubbing voter rolls.

But with the state sending out mail-in ballots to everyone on the checklist, critics say there is potential for fraud. Last election cycle, there were cases where Vermonters received ballots at their homes addressed to former residents. Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos says they monitor the process closely.

Reporter Calvin Cutler: What is stopping somebody from filling out their neighbor’s ballot and sending it in?

Jim Condos: Nothing. But they have to sign that ballot. We know where that ballot went so we would be able to have an investigation and follow up on it, find out what happened.

The Ethan Allen Institute’s David Flemming says that since local races can sometimes come down to a few votes, security measures such as signature verification should be considered. “We need to have some sort of ID process to verify that the vote being counted actually belongs to the person who cast the ballot,” he said.

Lawmakers in Montpelier discussed that last year but decided against it. Condos says the prospects of being charged with voter fraud are enough of a deterrence and he says there’s only been one documented case of it in Vermont.

Ultimately, Middlebury’s town clerk and the secretary of state say reports like the one from Ethan Allen Institute -- and other nationwide GOP efforts -- chip away at Vermonters’ trust in elections.

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