Voting by mail? Do it soon, Condos says

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MONTPELIER — Demand for vote-by-mail ballots for the Tuesday, Aug. 11 primary is greater than the total number of voters who cast ballots in the 2016 or 2018 primary elections, Secretary of State Jim Condos said Wednesday.

How much greater? In the 2016 primary, about 120,000 Vermont voters went to the polls, Condos said.

"This year we have over 135,000 absentee ballot requests, and that doesn't account for next two weeks," he said. "So town clerks are very, very busy trying to process all these [ballots]."With that in mind, if you're thinking about voting by mail for the primary, do it soon, Condos advised.

"If you have your ballots and you haven't voted yet, I recommend you mail them as quickly as possible," Condos said during a Facebook Live hour-long question and answer session on Wednesday. He suggested that ballots be placed in the mail by Monday or Tuesday at the very latest; otherwise, bring them to your town clerk's office and drop them in the secure ballot box no later than Monday, Aug. 10, or bring them with you to the polling place on Tuesday.

Town Clerks across Southern Vermont said demand for vote-by-mail ballots is a good deal higher than it has been in past elections.

In Brattleboro, Town Clerk Hillary Francis reported her office has received and mailed 3,154 requests for ballots, and already received 1,231 ballots to date.

For comparison, in August of 2016, 652 Brattleboro voters asked to vote by mail in that year's statewide primary, and 570 followed through. The 2018 August primary saw 938 requests and 911 returned ballots, Francis said.

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In Bennington, Town Clerk Cassandra Barbeau reported that as of Wednesday afternoon, 2,629 voters had requested and been issued early absentee ballots. Of that number, 1,245 voters had already returned their voted ballots, she said.

Manchester Town Clerk Anita Sheldon reported her office had sent out 1,171 absentee ballots and had 543 returned ballots as of Wednesday. That's well more than the 733 requests and 127 returned ballots in the August 2016 primary, or the 894 requests and 168 returns in August of 2018, she said.

The state of the U.S. Postal Service, which on Wednesday reached a $10 billion loan agreement with the U.S. Treasury Department, has been a focus of attention as states gear up vote-by-mail operations to protect voters and poll workers from the COVID-19 virus.

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"I do want to say our postal workers work really hard and they are very good at their jobs its not always their fault when something happens," Condos said. "The good news is they have instructions that election mail is a priority and they will be working diligently."

Condos advised voters to be follow the instructions carefully to be sure their vote is counted. That includes:

- Filling out just one of the three primary ballots and placing it in the proper envelope. (While Vermont voters are free to choose a primary to vote in, they may only choose one).

- Putting the two unused primary ballots in the unused ballot envelope.

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- Being sure to sign the certification, under penalty that you're the person who voted on the ballot.

If a ballot envelope does not have return postage, Condos said, voters can ask to be reimbursed by their town clerk. Postage for the envelope is about 65 cents, and two standard first-class stamps should cover the cost, he said.

As for that polling place: With many towns changing primary locations to assure social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, Condos advised voters contact their town clerk or the Secretary of State voting page at https://mvp.vermont.gov/ to make sure of its location.

The August 11 primary includes races for Democratic and Republican nominations for Governor, Lieutenant Governor and representative to U.S. Congress, as well as a Democratic race for Auditor and some local races for seats in the state House of Representatives.

Voters may still register and vote the day of the election.

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers Inc. Reach him at gsukiennik@reformer.com.


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