MONTPELIER — Early voting is still popular in Vermont, as more than 100,000 ballots have been submitted to town clerks with nearly three weeks until Election Day, setting a new record.
As of Wednesday, 120,832 ballots have been returned to town clerks in Vermont, said Eric Covey, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Jim Condos. “That is a record number of ballots cast early/absentee by a wide margin, and is roughly 38 percent of the total turnout in 2016, with a little under three weeks left of early voting,” Covey said.
The previous early voting record in a general election was 95,203, set in 2016.
Under an act of the Legislature, Condos sent ballots to every registered voter in the state in order to lessen the risk of spreading COVID-19 during the Tuesday, Nov. 3 general election.
In towns across Southern Vermont, the response has been healthy. Clerks across the region reported that they experienced an initial surge in votes submitted shortly after the ballots were mailed to voters, and a steady response ever since.
“They hit all at once. People brought them back or mailed them in immediately,” said Shaftsbury Town Clerk Marlene Hall. “Now it’s more of a steady flow every day.”
Brattleboro was among the clubhouse leaders in votes received, with 3,019 ballots submitted as of Wednesday, Brattleboro Town Clerk Hillary Francis said in an email.
“We usually have high participation with early and absentee voting in Brattleboro, so our voters are used to voting prior to Election Day,” Francis said. “We have been busy here, but we have clear processes in place with a clear division of labor, so that helps us stay on top of our work in an efficient, accurate, and effective manner. We have members of Board of Civil Authority and election workers coming in daily to help us, which we are really grateful for.”
Londonderry Town Clerk Kelly Pajala said 333 votes have been submitted so far, with another 111 returned to her office because the voter on the list was no longer at that address.
Pajala, who also serves as a state representative, said the early returns are “about what I expected, which is a higher early rate than previous elections.”
So far, Londonderry voters seem to be grasping the instructions, as only two ballots have been deemed defective. “I have had more questions about whether or not people can vote in person on Election Day,” Pajala said.
The answer to that question is “yes.” Londonderry will be operating a drive-thru polling place to serve voters, Pajala said.
In Putney, Town Clerk Jonathan Johnson said 603 of 1,791 mailed absentee ballots had been submitted, a 33.6 percent return rate. About 100 ballots were returned as undeliverable.
“That’s a little higher than I thought,” Johnson said, as he expected the primary vote-by-mail effort would have reduced the number of names on the voting rolls that are no longer active.
In Putney, ballots can be returned to a secure drop box at town hall, at 127 Main St.
“The most important thing is make sure you put the ballot inside the certificate envelope and fill out the certificate,” Johnson said. “That’s the most common reason ballots are ruled defective.”
The mailing file provided to vendor for the Secretary of State contained only active, registered Vermont voters, Covey said. Challenged voters were left out.
“It is inevitable that some ballots were sent to former residents at various addresses — every voter checklist in the country contains some voters who have moved without updating their voter registration or without notifying the clerks to remove them from the list,’ Covey said.
“Not having the [Postal Service] forward ballots based on their change of address information was by design to help ensure that the vast majority of ballots were sent to the current residence for voters, and to ensure that voters were not sent a ballot for a voting district they no longer reside in,” Covey added.
The presence of secure drop boxes for voters who don’t want to use the mail has been well-received in Shaftsbury, where Town Clerk Marlene Hall said 775 of 2,776 mailed ballots — 27.9 percent — have already been submitted.
“We installed a brand new drop box outside, and we got a couple of thank-you notes about that, which is awesome,” Hall said. “People rally seem to appreciate there’s a safe palace to drop off their ballot.” The Shaftsbury Town Clerk’s office is located at 61 Buck Hill Road.
Down the road in Bennington, Town Clerk Cassandra Barbeau reported 2,747 ballots have been submitted.
“I believe people are having a much easier time with the General Election ballot, as opposed to the primary, when errors could occur with the voter having received multiple party ballots,” Barbeau said in an email. “We have had very few issues with the ballots we have received back.
“I am hopeful, despite the misinformation on social media, and the confusion with different States having different laws, voters are reading the instructions and calling the office with any questions.”
In the Northshire, Manchester Town Clerk Anita Sheldon said 681 votes had been submitted as of Thursday. The largest number of ballots appeared shortly after the town’s ballots were mailed.
Sheldon said ballots may be turned in at the drop box in front of town hall, at the drop box in the town clerk’s office, or mailed in. Or, voters may vote in person between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Election Day at town hall.