Primary Preview: Meet the Democrats running for Vermont secretary of state
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos is not seeking reelection and three candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination.
The Secretary of State’s Office performs a number of functions in the state including all things elections, like administration and security, and the Office of Professional Regulation which deals with the licensing of professions.
In light of national events, election security is one of the main topics the candidates are looking at.
Chris Winters has worked in the Secretary of State’s Office for the last 25 years, including seven years as deputy to the secretary. He says the state needs to provide transparency and information to all Vermonters, including with civics education reassuring them how elections work in this state.
“Election integrity is under attack. Access to voting in other states is being challenged in ways we’ve never seen before, so we need someone with experience and someone who’s been effective with a proven track record in the Secretary of State’s Office,” Winters said.
John Odum is currently the Montpelier city clerk and says election security is at the very heart of why he’s running. Odum is a certified ethical hacker and says he would be the first secretary of state in the nation to understand how computer hackers are trying to undermine democracy.
“To meet the coming threats, we have to make some fundamental changes and I’ve got a plan to do that. And I think we could lead not only the country in election cybersecurity paradigm, we could lead the whole world. We could be a model,” Odum said.
Sarah Copeland Hanzas is leaving her seat as a state representative from Bradford to run. She echoes the sentiments of election integrity and says there are many threats, including intentional misinformation or election deniers, but she also feels confident in the Vermont system in place with 251 local election administrators throughout the state.
“I feel very comfortable that our elections in Vermont are secure because we listened to the local elections administrators and they set the policy on how to conduct our local elections,” Copeland Hanzas said.
Though the secretary of state is an elected position, all three candidates believe the office needs to be nonpartisan.
But Odum says he believes there is room to push for policy change, such as a move to universal mail-in ballots using the Office of Professional Regulation to advocate for equal pay for licensed professionals.
“I think the Secretary of State’s Office can take a little more of an activist role in effecting policy, in effecting debate in this state,” Odum said.
Winters started his career in the Office of Professional Regulation, in charge of licensing professionals across the state. He believes they’ve already made great inroads using OPR as a workforce development tool.
“We are leading the nation in providing right-sized regulation. That’s regulation that goes just far enough to protect the public but doesn’t go too far as to keep someone out of the profession. So, it’s not only a public protection tool, it’s an economic development tool and it’s a workforce tool,” Winters said.
Copeland Hanzas says she wants to make the Office of Professional Regulation work for the people. As a former small business owner, she has a plan to help other business owners market their OPR-licensed businesses more easily using the database.
“What if we take that listing of professionals, many of whom are sole proprietors who are working in our communities, and made that list a consumer searchable list so you can find... wouldn’t it be great to be able to look at a listing that was searchable by geography so people can access those professionals in their communities?” Copeland Hanzas said.
Another hot button issue is the idea of universal mail-in ballots for all elections, including town meetings. But the candidates say a statewide conversation involving municipalities needs to happen to see where the appetite stands on that, including who will bear the cost.
These three Democratic candidates will be on the ballot in the primary come August 9.
The other two major parties have one candidate each, so they don’t have a primary battle.
Robert Millar of Winooski is the Progressive in the race, and perennial candidate H. Brooke Paige is running on the Republican side.
Paige has run for numerous positions over the past few elections and is again this year. He’s on the ballot for treasurer, auditor and secretary of state. He says he wants to make sure there is a Republican choice to prevent Democratic write-ins from winning the Republican nomination.
“Even if I’m not on the trajectory to win, I run because it allows me to get out there and publicly express my conservative values to a wider audience than I could ever achieve by getting up on a soap box on State and Main and strutting my stuff,” Paige said.
Paige says he will step aside after the primary if the Republicans want to nominate another worthy candidate to run against the Democrats.
Paige does have a platform for secretary of state. He agrees elections have become increasingly insecure and believes that universal mail-in ballots are a mistake that could lead to increased fraud.
On the Office of Professional Regulation, he believes they oversee too many professions that don’t belong under the purview of the state, such as tattoo artists.
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