'Unprecedented' number of absentee ballots in Brattleboro

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BRATTLEBORO — With state primary elections happening Tuesday in a pandemic, absentee ballots are in high demand.

"We're busy over here processing the unprecedented number of absentee ballots," Town Clerk Hilary Francis said Wednesday via Facebook. "If you have not yet voted, there is still time."

In an interview, Francis said Brattleboro had 3,386 requests for ballots and received 1,698 ballots by the end of the day Tuesday. Her office had 150 to 200 or more ballots come in Wednesday that still needed to be processed.

For the 2016 August state primary, 652 Brattleboro voters asked to vote by mail and 570 followed through. The 2018 August primary saw 938 requests and 911 returned ballots.

As of Wednesday, the town had 9,665 registered voters and more could be coming. Vermont allows residents to register to vote on the same day of an election.

Ballots are still being mailed out to residents if they request them.

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"It is getting tight right now," Francis said, because ballots need to be returned by Tuesday.

She's advising voters to return their ballots in a brown drop box in the parking lot of the Municipal Center that says "Ballots" until Monday. She said the box is checked numerous times a day.

On Tuesday, voters will bring their absentee ballots to the American Legion on Linden Street where a poll worker will have a box outside so they can avoid going inside the building. Polls at the Legion are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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"We're going to be trying to move people in and out quickly without rushing their voting process," Francis said, adding that there might be longer wait times than usual due to capacity restrictions outlined in state guidelines regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

For those unable to wear masks, there will be a place to vote outside. Masks and hand sanitizer will be made available.

Parking will be offered at the Legion, Municipal Center and the state office building. The Legion has a wheelchair and ramp. More election information can be found at brattleboro.org.

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All three ballots must be returned and include the voter's signature or their vote will be considered "defective" and will not count. That ensures ballots "aren't floating around in the universe," Francis said.

In Vermont, voters don't need to register with a political party but they only fill out a primary ballot for one party. Francis said the two blank ballots go into an unvoted envelope and the filled-out ballot goes into a voted envelope, which all go into a returned mail envelope. The voted envelope has a section to print the person's name, town, signature and date.

Brattleboro is having defective votes mostly because people are not returning unvoted envelopes and they're voting more than one ballot or they're not signing, Francis said.

If someone notices they've made a mistake before submitting it and alerts her office, they can receive a replacement ballot. A person can only get up to two replacement ballots.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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