Thursday October 4, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- At least two local town clerks are concerned about what appears to be an official letter to area residents urging them to request an early/absentee ballot.

"It’s a political action committee that is sending them out, not town clerks," said Susie Haughwout, Wilmington Town Clerk. "It’s a preprinted form with a return envelope and it looks as if we sent them out, but we didn’t. It’s confusing for the voters."

The application form is accompanied by a letter from Vermonters First, which states in part: "As you know, Democrats currently control the Governor’s office, Treasurer’s office, Attorney General’s office, Secretary of State’s office and hold veto-proof majorities in BOTH chambers of the Legislature. It’s no wonder they aren’t listening to the needs of average Vermonters. With so much power in the hands of one party, they are free to advance their agenda of more government control and higher taxes without regard for the devastating impact on working Vermonters."

The flipside of the letter urges voters to support Republican Wendy Wilton, from Rutland, as State Treasurer.

The letter also urges recipients to use the enclosed ballot request form "to make voting easy and convenient."

"We’ve received a few (of the applications)," said Haughwout. "We called some of the people to make sure that they really wanted the ballots. We don’t get so many that we can’t make the phone calls."

Other than having been mailed by the PAC, said Haughwout, the form is entirely legitimate and her office will process them as if the applicant came in or called to request one.

Brattleboro Town Clerk Annette Cappy said in the past, voters have received similar letters but on behalf of a candidate.

"This is more organized than those," she said, including the addressed -- but not stamped -- envelope.

"What is disturbing," said Cappy, "is the letter that goes along with the form. It’s very partisan."

The letter also includes: "The super-majority in Montpelier has a plan that involves a government take-over of your healthcare."

While the mailing is legal, said Cappy, "The letter that accompanies the request form is very misleading. It is very deceiving."

Cappy said she is sending out ballots to people who sign the forms and return them to her office just the same.

"If it has their signature, I am assuming the voter wants it," she said.

Tayt Brooks, who is the treasurer of Vermonters First, said the organization is advocating for balance "Both in the discussion of the issues and in regard to the Legislature in Montpelier. People are only hearing one message out of Montpelier. We think it’s important with the issues facing Vermont -- healthcare, taxes, jobs, the economy -- to hear some balance in the discussion. We’re here trying to do that."

Brooks, who is running for high bailiff in Franklin County, said he has no connection with any of the candidates currently running for public office.

"We’re not telling anyone to vote one way or the other," said Brooks. "It’s pretty straightforward and something I believe other campaigns have used in the past."

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos said the practice of sending out such letters is a common practice.

"There is nothing illegal about it," he said.

Condos confirmed he has received phone calls from town clerks around the state about the mailing.

"They were concerned after hearing from people who thought the letter was coming from the town clerk’s office," he said.

However, said Condos, the letter from Vermonters First could backfire.

"It may not work the way they thought it would," he said. "A lot of Democrats have received it and they are more than happy to vote early."

The letter also includes a link to a website, vermontersfirst.com, where people can learn more about the organization and its agenda.

The form that has been sent by the organization can also be downloaded from the Secretary of State’s website at vermont-elections.org/elections1/absentee.html

Absentee ballots are now available at town clerks’ offices around the state. The ballots must be received by 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 5. The last day to register to vote is Wednesday, Oct. 31, before 5 p.m. For more information, contact your town clerk.